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Thick smog blankets Moscow as smoke billows in from massive nearby wildfires ‘exacerbated by officials too afraid to admit the true magnitude to Putin’
Thick smog blanketed Moscow Thursday as it swept into nearby wildfires, which the national wildfires say were exacerbated by negligent local authorities too afraid to admit their true magnitude to Vladimir Putin.
Hundreds of firefighters and several aircraft fought the blazes in the Ryazan region, some 255 miles southeast of Moscow, the Emergencies Ministry said. The Federal Forest Service accused the region’s authorities of downplaying the extent of the fires and delaying an adequate response, while the pollution is exacerbated by some firefighters deployed to the war in Ukraine, state media said.
“The forestry authorities of the Ryazan region and its nature reserves have let the situation with the forest fires slip and hide its real magnitude,” the agency told the RIA Novosti news agency. The region’s governor, Pavel Malkov, said on Wednesday that more than 1,980 hectares have been affected by the fires. But the international environmental group Greenpeace estimated the figure at more than 8,100 hectares. ‘There is a good chance that the fires were caused by human activity. And the ongoing heat and drought provide favorable conditions for the fire to spread,” Greenpeace said on Wednesday.
Moscow and the surrounding regions have seen few weeks of little rain and temperatures averaging 25 Celsius (77F), expected to rise in the coming days. High winds fueled the fires, making them worse. A thick veil of penetrating smog descended on the Russian capital with temperatures around 30C (86F). Saint Basil’s Cathedral and other sights were shrouded in smoke.
Moscow officials urgently sent reinforcements of firefighters to the Ryazan region southeast of the city, where wildfires are spiraling out of control. Other infernos are ablaze in the Vladimir, Ivanovo and Nizhny Novgorod regions. Greenpeace said the fires raged in an area already hit by severe fires in 2010, which caused weeks of suffocating smog in Moscow. The organization warned that Russia faces many fires every year, but they rarely receive the same attention as the fires that hit the capital. “Hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest (fires) and people in remote villages live in smog for months,” Greenpeace’s Kosacheva said. Greenpeace called the situation catastrophic because of “extreme heat and drought.”
Environmentalists say regional officials routinely downplay the magnitude of the fires for fear that the Kremlin will be blamed even though they have no resources to fight the fires. Now fires that could have been stopped have spiraled out of control with suffocating smoke blanketing Moscow, the worst in at least 12 years. Another problem is that some key firefighters have been transferred to Ukraine. The Federal Forest Service directly blamed Ryazan’s regional officials for “covering up” the extent of the wildfires until it was too late.
Children were ordered to strictly limit play time in Moscow, with 15 million inhabitants in the area, and people were urged to wear masks.
In recent years, massive fires have swept across Russia’s vast territory, particularly in Siberia, the Arctic and the Far East. The fires, which are becoming more frequent, are exacerbated by low rainfall and heat waves that scientists have linked to climate change. Each summer, these fires release huge plumes of noxious smoke that suffocate cities hundreds of miles away. In July 2010, Moscow was suffocated by smoke from peat fires, resulting in an unprecedented spike in respiratory disease and deaths.