by Saarang Kashyap
A prolonged heatwave in Russia’s Siberia has caused the number of wildfires to erupt by fivefold over the last week. Russia’s forest service said there were nearly 300 wildfires blazing across the vast country’s northern wilderness on Saturday, as it attempted to contain them with methods including explosives and cloud seeding.
Freakishly warm weather, across large swathes of Siberia since January, combined with low soil moisture, have contributed to a resurgence of wildfires that devastated the region last summer, the European Union’s climate monitoring network said this week. In April, many parts of Asia, including Siberia, experienced record heat, which led to wildfires in Russia’s northernmost region. Experts are concerned about the early start of this year’s fire season in Siberia, especially after the mass devastation caused by the 2019 Siberian wildfires.
The Mongabay states that “In Siberia, the high temperatures gave way to wildfires. On April 27, a satellite system operated by NASA captured an image of red flames and smoke blowing through at least nine regions near Kemerovo and Novosibirsk in Siberia.” Other regions, like Tokmak, Kyrgyzstan, have reached 35.1°C (95.2°F), while at Ayding Lake, China, the temperature peaked at 43.5°C (110.3°F).
The fires may be happening in remote regions of Siberia, but the entire world will be impacted, according to Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The region is home to one of the world’s largest high-latitude forests and much of the region’s land is permafrost,” Dahl said. “Both forests and permafrost store enormous amounts of carbon. So when they burn or thaw, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, which causes further warming.
Right now, the health and well-being of people in the regions being affected need to be held at the highest priority because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because both wildfires and COVID-19 affect respiratory systems, the combined threats could present serious risks to people in the region, especially if they have underlying health conditions.