Author`s name Pravda.Ru

Forest fires devour millions of hectares

The wet summer has so far been kind to Russia's forests, as there have been just a few hundred fires, which is far off the "extreme" figure of 40,000. This time last year, Moscow was choking with the smoke of the Shatura peat bogs burning nearby, but now water has to be pumped out of them.

However, Georgy Korovin, chief of the Forest Environment and Productivity Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, believes that we should not allow the rainy weather to lull us into a false sense of security: the forest fire season is only approaching its peak, and August, the most "fiery" month of the year, is still ahead.

The fire season (it normally begins in March and ends in early November) destroys millions of hectares of luxurious Russian forests. According to the statistics, the greater part of forest fires usually occur in European Russia, which is the most densely populated and has extensive industrial infrastructure. However, the same factors play a positive role, too, as people immediately rush to extinguish fires, using all the available means.

Fires in the Asian part of the country, in the vast expanses of Siberia and the Far East, are another matter. Take, for example, a thicket in a coniferous forest that has been struck by lighting. Russia's eastern territories are sparsely populated, while the lack of roads and other vital forms of infrastructure often makes them absolutely inaccessible for fire-fighting teams. Aviation alone is frequently not enough to combat the flames, which means they rage until heavy rainfall puts them out.

The lack of extreme situations with regard to forest fires has encouraged the proponents of an idea to divide the present state system of protecting forests against fires among Russia's regions. Forestry experts are concerned about the intentions of the reformers'- some of whom sit in the government - to divide responsibility for the vast forestland and its protection among the Russian Federation's regions.

In the process of dividing this delicious green "pie", the fire-fighting services may be split up, which, in the opinion of experts, "may cause a genuine catastrophe." Such an immense territory with different climatic conditions is subject to different burning levels. At present, the flexible mechanism of controlling forest fires allows material and technological capabilities to be used effectively, sending them where they are needed the most.

The US and Canada have adopted Russia's practice of maintaining centralised control of forest fire-fighting actions as the most effective method. But today the pernicious idea of destroying this time-tested system is being promoted in a country that is home to one-fifth of the world's forests.