Why fires in Siberia are so huge
We can’t blame only climate change for the wildfires raging across Siberia, said Alexey Polovnikov. Since the beginning of this year, fires have consumed some 32 million acres—an area larger than Greece—including forests within the Arctic Circle. Those blazes have only intensified in the summer months. The federal government has blamed illegal loggers for setting fires to cover up their misdeeds, but that doesn’t explain why the blazes were allowed to grow to such a massive size. The answer, says Russian historian Darya Mitina, lies in President Vladimir Putin’s “de-bureaucratization” reforms, under which firefighting was removed from the responsibility of the federal Ministry of Emergencies and transferred to the regions. The problem is that regions such as Irkutsk, where many of the worst fires are raging, don’t have the money or the infrastructure to fight fires. They lack not only aircraft to drop water but also trained firefighters on the ground. The situation has become “so catastrophic that even foreign countries are drawing attention to it.” The smoke wafted over to Alaska a few weeks ago, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to offer Putin firefighting assistance in a terrible “blow to Russia’s international image.” Putin has now called out the army, but returning firefighting to the federal government is the only long-term solution.