Picture of a buiding in Russia on Fire
The Russian wildfires are out of control burning whole villages. CC by k.ivoutin/Flickr

In a great portion of Russian territory, fires triggered by a record heat wave and drought are burning out of control. The death toll from Russian fires was 48 as of Aug. 6 and entire villages have been consumed by flames. Moscow was suffocating under a toxic blanket of smoke, and 4,000 people have lost their homes. In certain areas, nuclear contamination from the Chernobyl disaster locked up in the trees could be re-released by the fires. Russian government agencies, slow and poorly equipped to fight the fires, are receiving a rare dose of criticism.

Add fires to the heat wave and drought ravaging Russia

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said that since the fires started, more than 1.6 million acres of land have burned. To fight the fires, the government has enlisted more than 155,000 people. The Wall Street Journal reports that more than 400 new fires emerged even as 293 were put out. As of Aug. 6, a total of 520 fires were burning across the country. Russia’s worst drought in 30 years and a record heat wave that led to the fires won’t end anytime soon. Searing heat will persist, with some parts of the country reaching up to 107 degrees, until at least Aug. 12.

Heat is on Russian government

As the Russian government fights to get the fires under control, public anger is boiling over. The government’s inability to protect its citizens from both natural and man-made disasters has been brought out in the open, the Financial Times said. Russia still labors under corrupt governance, a sloppy safety precautions and a crumbling infrastructure, even with a trillion-plus dollar economy fueled by energy revenues. Because the system is “absolutely dysfunctional,” Nikolay Petrov of the Carnegie Moscow Centre told the Times that the death toll is much higher in Russia than in other countries where such fires occur. Petrov said that under the “super-centralized” political apparatus installed by Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, communication was far too slow to be effective.

Fires threaten Europe with nuclear contamination

Nuclear contamination is another threat posed by Russian fires. AFP reports that in certain areas of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, radioactive cesium 137 left over from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster remains in the forests. Philippe Renaud, head of the environmental radiation laboratory at France’s IRSN nuclear safety institute, said Russian nuclear contamination could be breathed in by people as far away as France If trees in those areas burn.


Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704017904575408833952872038.html

Financial Times: http://www.ft.com/home/us

Google: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jpr6Pin_s2ImKb5rvAdIFMTqc61w

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