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When the earth burns underfoot: who and how extinguishes fires in Siberia


Forest fires have become one of the most discussed events of this summer in Russia. Fire covered about 3 million hectares of forest. Smoke from the taiga was blown west and south to large cities. In addition to Avialesokhrana, the Ministry of Emergencies and army aviation were thrown to fight fires. RT correspondent went to the Krasnoyarsk Territory to find out who and how extinguishes burning forests.

The first reports of smoke in Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk and other cities appeared in late July. The situation looked alarming, but not catastrophic. A mass reaction in social networks was provoked by the speech of the governor of the Krasnoyarsk Territory. Such a remark is credited to Alexander Uss: “It is not economically feasible to extinguish forest fires.”

We were unable to find confirmation that Uss said exactly that, nevertheless the phrase became a meme. The governor really said that fighting this natural phenomenon was "pointless", and compared the quenching of taiga in a remote area with the attempt to "drown the icebergs so that it would be warmer here."

One way or another, the Ministry of Emergency Situations responded briefly on the appropriateness of extinguishing: "No economic reasons can affect the fact that assistance was received." July 30 in several regions - the Krasnoyarsk Territory, Irkutsk Region, Yakutia and Buryatia - an emergency mode was introduced. Rescuers of the Ministry of Emergency Situations were sent to the taiga (they are called a landing party, since they are being thrown by air) and military aviation - fire aircraft Il-76 and helicopters Mi-8. Prior to this, the detachments of "Aviation Forest Guard" did not stop working on fires in the taiga.

The most serious fires are in the Krasnoyarsk Territory. Boguchany is a district center, a village on the Angara River a few hundred kilometers from Krasnoyarsk. There are helicopters that deliver firefighters to the forest. We went to Boguchany to get to the forefront of the fight against fire.

"We are already used to it"

Residents of Boguchan, unlike Krasnoyarsk residents, see nothing unusual in smog.

“We have smoke every year. We are already used to it; we don’t put on medical masks during the fires, we don’t close kindergartens. It’s not possible to dry the clothes in the street alone - the soak is saturated, ”says Olga Petukhova, a resident of Boguchan, to RT.

Threats to people from fire, as it was in the spring in Transbaikalia, are not present. Taiga burns in the depths of the Krasnoyarsk Territory, where there is no housing and it is extremely rare to meet people. We have to fly 300 km by helicopter.

  • Avialesokhrana employees are thrown to the fires by helicopter
  • Reuters
  • © Oleg Adamovich

For many city dwellers, the taiga seems to be a virgin endless coniferous forest to the horizon, where you can only walk along rivers, and everything else is an impassable centuries-old windbreak. In fact, this is not so.

  • Deforestation frames

From the air it is clearly visible that the taiga is cut by dirt roads that connect the square bald spots of clearings. “Black lumberjacks” in the region are caught and judged by dozens every year, but the criminal trade does not stop.

  • It looks like a taiga from the air after a fire
  • RT
  • © Oleg Adamovich

All 300 km of the way we observed glades with hemp. In some places, the cutting flaps have a bright red color - here not only trees were cut down, but the entire fertile layer was taken out.

In place of the old felling, new trees appear. But mainly with white trunks - birch replaces larch, the quality of the forest is deteriorating.

What and how do they stew

Orange Mi-8 with supplies for firefighters sits in a swampy meadow. Due to the thick layer of moss, the chassis is not visible. Legs are also unusual - as if you are walking on a water mattress.

  • Food and fuel for forest firefighters are delivered by helicopter
  • RT
  • © Oleg Adamovich

The fire begins (or ends) 30 meters from the helicopter. There is no big fire, but there is a lot of smoke. Thick gray clubs rise between the trees.

Camp Avialesohrany stands on the edge of the meadow. Only eight people live and work here. Three kilometers along the edge of the fire, on the one and the other side, the same camps are located with their fire fighters - these are the Ministry of Emergencies and local regional forest firemen. There is no coordination between the teams on the spot. The camps live autonomously; they don’t even go to visit each other.

  • Camp "Avialesohrany" near the outbreaks of forest fires in the Krasnoyarsk Territory
  • RT
  • © Oleg Adamovich

“How can you put out the burning taiga in general?” - we ask Vladimir Mikayev, the instructor - the paratrooper of the fire group of the federal budget institution Avialesohrana.

On the video in social networks, the trees are blazing, the fire rises tens of meters up - it looks scary.

“This is the so-called horse fire, when the fire goes with great speed along the crowns of the trees. It is impossible to extinguish it in the place where it is already burning. We can only stop the fire. Oncoming fire is applied - another fire wall is launched towards the fire. When two fires converge, the fire first rises high, and then drops off sharply, because there is nothing to burn - there are no trees, nor enough oxygen, ”the fireman explains.

Now in the taiga grassroots and underground fires. With grassroots on the ground, dry branches burn, fallen trees. Underground - when a thick layer of moss burns.

Fire fighters in the forest work like doctors during an epidemic - create an irresistible “quarantine zone” around a problem area, create borders that the flame cannot cross. To stop a riding fire, dozens, and sometimes hundreds of meters of scorched earth are needed. For the grassroots, a ditch of 20 cm is enough.

Extinguishing media minimum:

  • shovels for digging burning earth;
  • axes and chainsaws to chop roots and trunks;
  • motor pumps for pumping water through hoses;
  • hand-held water sprayers with 20 liter water bags. They are effective during spring fires, when dry grass burns and you need to bring down the flame. Now satchels spend most of the time in the camp idle.

  • How firefighters extinguish a fire

Cyclone is better than airplane

The fire near our camp does not look particularly dangerous. You walk through the woods, climb over felled trees, and then stumble upon a layer of hot ash. Branches burn out along the edges, smoke rises from the ground.

“This is not a strong wind. Fire can quickly inflate, ”says Vladimir.

In the calm, an underground fire is spreading at a speed of about one meter per day. But it is worth blowing in the wind - the flame rises from the layer of moss and spreads to the trees.

Trees are a real danger to people. Fire burns their roots and the trunks fall. Often they begin to fall silently. At night, hearing a characteristic crack of branches through a dream, you involuntarily think: what if it falls onto the tent? But firefighters prepare in advance - they cut down all the dangerous trees around the camp.

The best extinguishing agent here is a shovel.

You dig a steaming earth, remove the remains of trees, and an underground fire in this place will not go any further. Under a thick layer of moss, permafrost immediately begins. Ice and fire literally coexist in the taiga. Digging is very difficult. The roots of trees cannot grow into permafrost, so they creep in breadth. You’re not so much digging as shredding the earth. Smog makes it hard to breathe. After processing 2-3 m of the edge of the fire, I want to rest. A professional forest fireman processes up to 200 m per day.

  • Shovel - the most effective means of fighting an underground forest fire
  • RT
  • © Oleg Adamovich

“What about airplanes with water? They pour 40 tons at a time - probably, you can put out everything better and faster with them? ”- we ask the employees of Aviation Forest Protection.

“There it is. A plane can knock down flames during a riding fire, it can give us extra time, but it is not capable of putting out a fire. Underground fire will remain, grassroots will remain. Discharged water scatters coals, which then flare up in new places. Plus, there remains the problem of accuracy - it’s difficult to aim from the air due to smoke, most of the water discharges pass by the edge of the fire, ”explains Vladimir Ivanov, a fire-fighting paratrooper.

Radically solves the problem of fire, good rain. Not a single plane - even ten - can replace an atmospheric cyclone.

Is it possible not to stew at all?

Since 2015, a rule has been in force in Russia allowing not to extinguish a fire if the cost of fighting the fire exceeds the projected damage. Because of this, the regions have almost ceased to engage in long-range small fires.

Extinguishing begins when the fires are already very large. This approach seems doubtful - because the more fire, the more difficult and expensive it is to fight.

  • The centers of fires in the Krasnoyarsk Territory
  • RT
  • © Oleg Adamovich

Smoke is the flip side of this issue. Saving on the maintenance of fire services and extinguishing the fire, we get problems associated with clean air and human health.

Meanwhile, for old coniferous forests, a natural fire is a renewal mechanism. Old trees burn, and young ones grow in their place.

In 1993, an experiment was even conducted in the Krasnoyarsk Territory - an entire island was burned in the taiga. Since then, an international group of scientists has been monitoring the state of the flora in the conflagration. Now young larch trees are already growing on the island.

Lyudmila Buryak, a researcher at the Central Siberian State Nature Reserve, gave an example of the Tunguska meteorite: after the catastrophe of 1908, a fire broke out in the taiga - the forest burned out for many kilometers around the place where the celestial body fell. But over 111 years, the forest has grown again, the area of ​​swamps has decreased.

What caused the current forest fires in Siberia is not yet completely clear.

The press service of the governor of the Krasnoyarsk Territory claims that the fires arose due to dry thunderstorms: lightning sets fire to trees without rain.

Meteorologists talk about climate change: summers are getting hotter and drier, so forests burn more often and more. The Airborne Guard paratroopers, in a conversation with RT, admit that they personally saw burnt trees split by lightning.

The governor’s administration claims that there are no arsonists in the taiga, as there is a wilderness and impassability.

But not everyone is ready to attribute everything to nature.

We saw with our own eyes dirt roads between clearings. Almost all of the local residents interviewed by RT in Boguchany believe that the "black loggers" who allegedly mask the illegal logging of the taiga are to blame for the fires.

“Fire will not hide illegal logging - stumps and saw cuts will still remain. Intentional arson among the causes of a fire is a drop in the ocean. The main reason why the forest lights up is the disregard of people for nature. The same lumberjacks (whether it is official or not) make bonfires and throw cigarette butts. From the abandoned coals, a fire begins. Plus, local authorities often find a fire too late when it is already expensive and difficult to extinguish, ”said Andrei Sirin, director of the Forestry Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The anthropogenic factor is also confirmed in the Ministry of Emergencies. “Aerial reconnaissance has shown that most of the centers of natural fires are located near roads, which suggests the main reason ... the man’s careless handling of fire,” the agency said.

Apparently, the reasons are a whole complex. This was stated by RT Director of the Hydrometeorological Laboratory in Boguchany Nikolai Kornev.

“For the past nine years, fires have become the scourge of our area. Rainfall is getting smaller, summers are hotter. Due to the fact that forests are massively cut down, moisture leaves the earth, and dry earth is more easily ignited. The staff of foresters has been greatly reduced in the country - they used to monitor the state of deforestation, but now there is no one to do it. According to the rules, after trees are cut down on the site, garbage must be removed. But it’s expensive - it’s easier for merchants to burn off the leftovers, ”the specialist said.

“Now there are too many fires, not all of them are natural. In most cases, fire is caused by people. Dry and hot weather is secondary. And since there are more fires in the taiga than is necessary for natural renewal, some of them must be put out in the bud. Alas, the decision of the officials not to put out the fires when they just started led to the spread of fire, ”said Grigory Kuksin, head of the Greenpeace fire department.

  • Director of the hydrometeo laboratory in Boguchany Nikolay Kornev on the causes of forest fires

Who will answer

The state has forces and means to extinguish forest fires. Moreover, they are distributed among different departments. There is Avialesohrana - this is a federal agency subordinate to Rosleskhoz. Despite the name, the organization does not have its own aviation - it has to rent helicopters from private companies, the Ministry of Emergencies or the military. Avialesohrana does not extinguish fires just like that - the regions must pay state organizations for the work. But they don’t give transport for free either - private traders and the Ministry of Emergencies receive money from the department for transporting firefighters.

There are also regional forest fire services (not in all entities). They are financed from regional budgets.

There are firefighters of the Ministry of Emergency Situations that extinguish fire in settlements.

There are military firefighters who deal only with the forests of the Ministry of Defense - at the training grounds and on the territory of military units.

In the case of current fires in Siberia, as often happens, the decision to eliminate emergency situations was not immediately taken. To extinguish or not to extinguish - each region decides for itself at the level of the governor.

Moreover, the opinion of municipal authorities, as a rule, is not decisive, they are only responsible for extinguishing settlements.

“We would be happy to do something, but we do not have the authority and means. Now many military and rescue workers have come to extinguish the district center, we can only help them with domestic issues, place them, feed them. But they fight with fire themselves, ”said Irina Butenko, assistant to the head of the Boguchansky district, RT.

Meanwhile, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against officials of the Ministry of Forestry of the Krasnoyarsk Territory.

“According to the preliminary version of the investigation, from March 22 to August 1, 2019, officials of the Ministry of Forestry of the Krasnoyarsk Territory did not take measures aimed at eliminating the forest fires that have arisen, and therefore the fires spread to large areas,” the UK said.

A sword of Damocles hung over Irkutsk officials. In the actions of the employees of the regional Ministry of Forestry, the Prosecutor General's Office found signs of "red tape" and "reflection of inaccurate information about the area of ​​fire, distance to settlements, distortion of data on the time to eliminate fires."

Source: russiart

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