Firefighters from both countries, as well as from British Columbia in Canada, are fighting an almost impossible battle to smother the underworld with water bombs and hoses, and prevent their spread by digging firewalls.
The smoke in the Yukutia Republic in Siberia was so thick on Tuesday that reconnaissance pilot Sviatoslav Kolesov was unable to do his job. There was no way he could fly his plane in such poor visibility.
Kolesov is a senior air observation post pilot in the Russian far eastern region of Yakutia. This part of Siberia is prone to forest fires, with much of the region covered with forests. But Kolesov told CNN the fires were different this year.
“New fires have appeared in northern Yakutia, in places where there was no fire last year and where it had never burned at all before,” he said.
Kolesov sees firsthand what scientists have been warning against for years. Forest fires are getting bigger and more intense and they are also happening in places that are not used to them.
“The fire season is lengthening, the fires are spreading, they are burning more intensely than ever,” said Thomas Smith, assistant professor of environmental geography at the London School of Economics.
Forest fires in Yakutia have consumed more than 6.5 million acres since the start of the year, according to figures released by the country’s aerial forest protection service. That’s almost 5 million football fields.
The Canadian province of British Columbia declared a wildfire emergency starting Wednesday. Nearly 300 active forest fires have been reported in the province.
Forest fires are part of a vicious climate cycle. Not only does climate change fuel fires, but their combustion releases even more carbon into the atmosphere, making the crisis worse.
Some scientists say this year’s fires are particularly severe.
“Already in mid-July, the estimated total emissions are higher than in many previous years for the summer periods, which shows that this is a very persistent problem,” said Mark Parrington, senior scientist at Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.
He said Yakutia has been continually plagued by high intensity fires since the last days of June.
“If I look at the time series, we kind of see equivalent intensity levels, but not for three weeks, you know, I think the longest before was maybe a few weeks or 10 days or something like that. , so much more isolate, ”he said, adding that the fire season usually lasts until mid-August, so it’s likely that the fires could continue.
More frequent and more intense
Smith said that while parts of Siberia and Canada have historically experienced wildfires, the concern is that the fires are now becoming much more frequent.
“Once upon a time, you had a fire every 100 to 150 years in one place, which means the forest regenerates completely and you end up with a mature forest, then the fire breaks out, then you start again,” he said. he declared. .
“What we are seeing in parts of eastern Siberia is that fires now occur every 10 to 30 years, in some places, and that means the forest will not be able to mature, and you end up with it. a [ecosystem] change to some sort of shrub land or swampy meadow. “
Heat waves and droughts also make new areas vulnerable to fires.
“In the Siberian Arctic we are concerned about the tundra ecosystem north of the forest, it would normally be too wet or frozen to burn,” Smith said. “Over the past two years, we’ve seen a lot of fires in this ecosystem, which suggests that things are changing there.”
It also has a serious and long-term effect on the climate. Ash from fires could also accelerate global warming by darkening surfaces that would normally be lighter in color and reflect solar radiation more.
Areas affected by these fires also include peatlands, which are among the most efficient carbon sinks on the planet, Parrington said.
“If they burn, it releases carbon,” Parrington said. “It removes a carbon storage system that has been around for thousands of years and so there is potentially an impact in return.”
Zarah Ullah, Anna Chernova and Darya Tarasova of CNN in Moscow and Augusta Anthony contributed to this report.