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Russia sends military aircraft to fight Siberia fires

July 14, 2021

As fires rage across the northern Siberian tundra, Russia's Defense Ministry has sent planes and helicopters to help douse the blazes. A heat wave and strong winds are complicating firefighting efforts.

A plane makes a water drop to fight a forest fire in the region of Yakutia in eastern Siberia, Russia, in this still image taken from video released July 14, 2021.
Military aircraft are water bombing the fires after locals appealed for more help from MoscowImage: RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY/REUTERS

Russian on Wednesday deployed military aircraft to help some 2,000 firefighters on the ground who are battling wildfires raging across almost 800,000 hectares (roughly 2 million acres) in Siberia.

The Defense Ministry said it had sent Ilyushin II-76 transport planes to the Sakha-Yakutia region to water-bomb fires. Military helicopters were also used to transport firefighters and carry out reconnaissance flights to locate the worst fires.

The Russian agency responsible for fighting forest fires, Avialesookhrana, said on Tuesday that the situation was worst in Yakutia, where 144 fires are burning over 578,000 hectares. In all, there are some 300 blazes raging in Siberia.

The help from the military came after local residents petitioned President Vladimir Putin to send more resources and equipment to help put out the fires.

A firefighter in the Yakutia region dousing flames
Firefighters on the ground have difficult conditions to contend withImage: AP/picture alliance

'Unpredictable' fires

The Kremlin has faced criticism that Russia has sent firefighting help to other countries like Greece and Turkey while ignoring the fires in its own territory. The government responded on Wednesday by saying that fires had become hard to predict and were worse than they once were.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that "the natural processes caused by climate change are unfortunately so strong that we are experiencing burning that did not previously take place."

Wildfires in the northern Siberian tundra, an annual occurrence, have become more intense in recent years owing to unusually high temperatures in the region.

Firefighters trying to battle the blazes have to contend with heat, flies, mosquitoes and swampland, while strong winds fanning the flames have been making their task even more difficult.

tj/msh (Reuters, AP)