Siberian wildfires prompt Russia to declare a state of emergency

(Inside Climate News, 31 Jul 2019) Temperatures that have been soaring with climate change combined with lightning and winds to burn vast areas of forest and send smoke hundreds of miles into cities.

Russia has declared a state of emergency in five Siberian regions after wildfires engulfed an area of forest almost the size of Belgium amid record high temperatures as a result of climate change.

Officials said 2.7 million hectares of forest (about 10,400 square miles) were ablaze on Tuesday as soaring temperatures, lightning storms and strong winds combined, sending smoke hundreds of miles to reach some of Russia's biggest regional cities.

The fires, which began earlier this month, and the Russian government's lacklustre response have raised concerns over Moscow's commitment to addressing climate change. The country relies heavily on the oil and gas industry and has a poor record of enforcing green initiatives.

The decision to declare the states of emergency on Wednesday came after two petitions attracted more than 1 million signatures demanding the government take action against the wildfires, which authorities previously dismissed as a natural occurrence, saying putting them out was not economically viable.

"The role of fires [in climate change] is underestimated. Most of the fires are man-made," Grigory Kuksin, head of the fire protection department at Greenpeace Russia, told the Financial Times. "Given the changing climate, this has led to the fire acreage expanding quickly, and the smoke spreading wider."

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Inside Climate News, 31 Jul 2019: Siberian wildfires prompt Russia to declare a state of emergency