New Heat Wave Scorches Russia

Satellite image of fires burning in eastern Russia, July 21, 2011.

Central Russia is under its second year of extreme heat, with temperatures above 30°C (86°F) for an entire month. “The central city of Volgograd was Russia’s hottest city with temperatures hovering above 40° Celsius (104 F) for the past few days, hotter than Cairo, Tashkent, Tehran and New Delhi.” The extreme heat is causing the former permafrost tundra to smolder and burn. Across Russia, “the emergencies ministry used 18 planes and 38 helicopters in an effort to douse a total of 220 wildfires, including 28 major blazes covering nearly 12,000 hectares,” a Moscow-based spokeswoman told AFP. “A major fire started in the southern Rostov region on Tuesday causing two days of explosions of World War II-era shells embedded in a local forest.” However, Russian officials may be downplaying the true extent of the fires, Radio Free Europe reports:

Already, fires are ravaging the Far East region of Yakutia, where Nikolai Shmatkov of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says satellite images show officials are again underreporting their extent.

“Greenpeace estimates 4 million hectares are burning in Yakutia,” he says, “but the official figures show only 1 million hectares on fire in the entire country.”

Fires are also raging in the northern Arkhangelsk region and in peat bogs surrounding Moscow. Greenpeace’s Kuksin, who spoke from a blaze outside Moscow where he is organizing volunteer firefighters, says the government is increasing the danger by denying the fires. “It’s trying to hide the problem instead of solving it,” he says, “and that leads to human casualties.”

The catastrophic rise in wildfires as Russia heats up from greenhouse pollution threatens the planet with feedback loops that accelerate global warming.

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