Siberian Wildfires

The world hotting up has made wildfires more frequent and intense. Siberia, which has the world’s most extensive forest, is again ablaze.

“As carbon builds in the atmosphere, the energy needs to be released and that results in more extreme weather,” explained meteorologist Oksana Tarasova. “The biomass burning in Siberia is part of this pattern.”

Siberia is among the regions with the greatest warming. This year’s average temperatures are running at 3 °C above the long-term average.The fires started right after the snow melted in the Siberian Arctic. British geographer Thomas Smith speculated that the fires might have smoldered throughout the winter – what he referred to as “zombies.”

An unusually warm and dry winter has turned Siberia into a tinderbox. The intensity of some of the April fires in eastern Russia have already dwarfed the infernos of last year, which ultimately roared through 7 million acres and wafted smoke into North America. Last year’s Siberian fire season was the worst year in history.

“We expect that there could be catastrophic fires in Siberia,” this year said environmentalist Alexey Yaroshenko, adding that wildfire season peaks in July/August. This summer’s massive blazes will help accelerate global warming.

Besides the fires, the extensive permafrost in Siberia is melting, releasing vast amounts of methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas.

Covid-19 has been instrumental in keeping Siberia alight, especially grass fires. “Because people are in self-isolation and don’t go to work, they have more time to go out, especially people in the villages near forests and fields. And they can cause fires,” remarked Russian firefighter Andrey Borodin.

Russia will not be as attentive to wildfires as it has been. Volunteer firefighters that typically go out in groups of 7 or 8 have been told to work in pairs or trios to follow social distancing guidelines. Russia’s finances are in shambles, partly because of historically cheap oil. Russia is a major oil exporter. “Due to the coronavirus and the shock of oil prices, budget revenue fell dramatically,” explained Alexander Osipov, governor of a territory in Siberia. “This year the situation is very complicated, and we have absolutely no time to deal with fires in addition to the virus,” Osipov added.

References:

Isabelle Khurshudyan, “Wildfires ravaged Siberia last year. This spring, the blazes are starting even bigger,” The Washington Post (16 May 2020).

Ishi Nobu, “Wildfires,” in The Fruits of Civilization, BookBaby (2019).

Jake Rudnitsky et al, “The world’s largest forest has been on fire for months,” Bloomberg (8 August 2019).