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Forest fires: stupidity of people and imperfection of laws

Experts - about the causes of large-scale fires this summer in Siberia and the Far East

According to the Federal Forestry Agency, as of September 26, the area covered by fire (as experts call the territory on which the fires raged) exceeded 16 million hectares in our country since the beginning of the year. Of these, more than 10,4 million hectares are the lands of the Forest Fund. And practically all of this territory is the Siberian and Far Eastern Federal Districts (4,08 million and 6,18 million hectares, respectively). The damage from forest fires this year has already exceeded eight billion rubles. But in addition, experts say, forest fires have caused losses that no one has counted and is unlikely to ever count - for the environment, for the life and health of people. Why forest fires have reached such proportions this year and could it have been avoided - in the material of EastRussia.

Forest fires: stupidity of people and imperfection of laws

Burning miles

In Krasnoyarsk on September 25, a large meeting was held under the leadership of the Prosecutor General of Russia, Yuri Chaika. The main topic of the meeting, in which the heads of the Russian regions participated, was the results of the current fire hazard season. The Prosecutor General called the problem of forest fires extremely acute. Moreover, according to him, the regional authorities did not do everything that they had to do.

“The largest number of fires this year was recorded in Buryatia, Yakutia, Amur Region, Irkutsk Region, Transbaikalia, Khabarovsk and Krasnoyarsk Territories,” Yuri Chaika said at the meeting. - At the same time, in most regions, the resources for fighting fires do not comply with the standards, the equipment is outdated, the fire warning system is practically inactive. This does not allow protecting forests properly. Regional authorities do not properly organize monitoring and prevention of forest fires. In almost all regions, funds for fire-fighting measures and repair of special equipment were allocated only after the intervention of the prosecutor’s office. ”

Separately, the Attorney General dwelled on the situation with fires that raged in remote areas. According to him, often decisions that such fires were not practical to extinguish were made illiterate and irresponsible. This led to serious consequences. 

Yuri Chaika gave an example with the Irkutsk region. They dragged it out to extinguish the fire, the area of ​​which at first was only five hectares. A few days later, this fire grew to 1 200 hectares, entered the territory of the Baikal National Park and approached residential buildings. 

“Similar cases were noted in Primorye, Transbaikalia and the Krasnoyarsk Territory,” the Prosecutor General said. 

Grigory Kuksin, head of the Greenpeace Russia firefighting program, spoke about a similar case in the Verkhoyansk ulus of Yakutia. 

“In early June there was a small fire there. Since he was apparently in a remote territory, it was decided not to extinguish it. But a week later, its area grew multiple, the fire approached settlements. Hundreds of people, dozens of pieces of equipment were thrown into the fight against this fire, huge funds were spent and a long time. But it was possible to cope with him with minimal costs and losses, - said Grigory Kuksin to an EastRussia correspondent. “You know, I have to work with volunteers — volunteer firefighters.” Sometimes one has to hear the guys “boasting”: they say, I recently worked on a fire “thousand-strong” (with an area of ​​about one thousand hectares. - approx. Ed.). Another to him: and I - at ten thousandth, for a week they did not go out of the woods, washed up, but extinguished it all the same. And I would say this: well done that fireman who managed to trample on the barely darkened edge of dry grass. To save the forest, nature, forces and means, he did more than everyone else. Unfortunately, regional authorities do not always understand this. ” 

According to Grigory Kuksin, the same picture is observed from year to year: the fight against fires begins too late.

“I have been observing the same 'fire hazardous cycle' for almost 20 years,” notes Grigory Kuksin. - In the spring bursts of dry grass begin, from them - fires. Usually by May in our country some village burns down because of this. This year everything was more serious: in April in Transbaikalia, fire destroyed 17 settlements almost completely. People's houses, livestock, equipment, and other property burned down. One person died ... But usually only when the situation gets out of control, the media begin to pay attention to it, and therefore - because of this resonance - and the authorities. At the same time, it turns out that there are not enough local resources to fight large fires. The second peak of fires occurs in the middle of summer - and this is actually forest fires. Around September, the third surge begins - again due to the burning of dry grass. And from year to year it turns out that we were once again not ready for fires.

Legal inaction

At the second stage described by Kuksin - forest fires in the midst of summer - it is worthwhile to stop especially. 

This year, residents of the Far East and Siberia learned what “control zones” are - a term that until recently existed only in the texts of official documents. 

“This concept was introduced in 2015 with the adoption of the updated Rules for extinguishing forest fires,” explains Pyotr Tsvetkov, Doctor of Biological Sciences, in the Pyrology Laboratory of the Forest Institute of the SB RAS. - By "control zones" we mean remote, with low, almost zero, transport accessibility of the territory. According to the new document, the forest fires arising there could not be extinguished under several conditions: they do not threaten settlements, economic facilities, and the costs of extinguishing these fires will be greater than the possible damage from them. It was assumed that if a fire no longer meets at least one of these conditions, it must be extinguished. ” 

The assignment of territories to control zones is established at the regional level and approved by the Federal Forestry Agency. But, the scientist notes, as a result, in the regions “from economy”, production areas (that is, at least with normal transport accessibility) and forests near settlements began to be included in control zones. Now, on average in the country, approximately half of the total area of ​​the Forest Fund belongs to control zones. 

“And fires are extinguished from year to year only on 10% of the area covered by fire. So, in some Far Eastern and Siberian regions this summer more than one million hectares of forest burned, and suppression went on 100 thousand hectares, ”says Petr Tsvetkov. 

In addition to the incorrect, illiterate definition of control zones, when establishing them, environmental and human health damage is not taken into account at all, says Grigory Kuksin. 

“Scientists are unanimous in the opinion that smoke from forest fires causes climate change - both global and local. In the first case, we are talking, for example, about the increased emission of greenhouse gases. If we talk about "local" changes, then the regions covered with smoke from forest fires cannot wait for the rain of salvation - this "smoky hat" simply does not leave any chance for precipitation. At the same time, heavy rains and, as a consequence, floods are not uncommon for territories adjacent to smoky regions: what could not fall there falls in double and triple volume here, ”explains Grigory Kuksin. 

But serious research on the effects of smoke from forest fires on human health, he said, is still not available. 

“There is evidence that the result of fires in the suburbs in the 2010 year, due to which the capital was suffocated for two weeks, was 55 thousand premature deaths,” says Grigory Kuksin. - But we know about it, because it is Moscow. And what is happening in the regions? Who knows! This summer, the direction of the wind in the eastern regions of the country was not typical: the wind did not blow from the south-west, as usual at this time of year, but from the north-east. Therefore, smoke from large fires carried away not to the small villages of Yakutia, as always happens, but to large Siberian cities and further to the west of the country. Moreover, cities with millionaires smoke covered for a long time. This is only why they talked about the problem, it received a great response. Hopefully this will be a reason for serious change. 

Everything changes only people

“In short, I would define the main causes of forest fires as follows: the stupidity of people who, for example, do not do the elementary thing to prevent fires, the imperfection of laws and the impracticable rules for which for some reason you need to live and work,” said Grigory Kuksin. 

Now these "imperfect laws" seem to be changing. In August 2019, the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation, Roslekhoz, and in parallel with these departments and Greenpeace Russia, sent proposals to the government according to which the “control zones” would be reduced by at least half, and the very principles of their determination would be reviewed. In addition, it will not be the regions that will establish control zones, but the Federation. It is also proposed to increase the staff of the Air Guard and expand the fleet of this service. It is clear that all these measures will require additional funding.

The scientists of the Forest Institute of the SB RAS, in turn, proposed changing the Forest Code. In their opinion, precisely because of this document, which entered into force in 2007, a sharp reduction of forest specialists was carried out, huge areas of forest remained virtually ownerless, and financing of the industry was reduced to a minimum.

“As the largest scientists note, this code is the worst and most undesirable in the entire history of the country's forestry,” said Petr Tsvetkov in this regard. 

According to Grigory Kuksin, there are really not enough personnel in the forestry sector. And those specialists who still remain do not even have basic equipment.

“How many times have we come across the fact that our volunteer units are better equipped than foresters or forest firefighters. Sometimes I had to share with them what we have, to help ... ”, complains Grigory Kuksin.

By the way, interest in volunteer associations that work on forest fires has grown this summer. There are many such volunteer groups in the Far East, and, for example, in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, they are just beginning to appear this fall - and this is also the result of the hot summer of 2019.

The volunteer corps of Lake Baikal, created in Buryatia in the 2015 year, is one of the largest volunteer associations. Its members are directly involved in extinguishing fires, working with residents of the republic - both adults and children: they explain how to prevent a forest fire and what to do if a disaster occurs. Humanitarian aid is being transported to people from the affected villages.

“I came to the Volunteer Corps of Lake Baikal by chance,” says Ekaterina Grudinina, a resident of Buryatia. - All my life I lived in the village of Selenginsk, worked at a local paper and cardboard mill. And we have such a thing: peat bogs were constantly smoldering near the village, literally for years. The nearest ones are 20 meters from residential buildings. And we actually lived in smoke all year round, in summer it was generally unbearable. And the smoke is not only harmful in itself - it is especially toxic from peat bogs. But we seem to have got used to it, and already did not pay attention. And then the volunteer guys came to us, when everything became completely creepy, to put out these fires. I asked to go with them. So I got involved. And you know, I believe that in a few years we, the volunteers, managed to turn the situation around in Selenginsk. The fires were mostly dealt with. We managed to explain to people how to behave so that the peat bogs would not burn, and if they did, what measures to take. There is nothing supernatural about changing something, no. Everything depends only on us. As far as I know, many become volunteer firefighters after they have had a disaster: for example, a house or summer cottage burned down. But you could have done so that this did not happen. "

Grigory Kuksin gives such statistics. According to a poll by the ROMIR agency, more than half of Russians are not even aware of the causes of forest fires. People are sure that most often they light up “by themselves”, or in extreme cases, for example, from a thunderstorm. In fact, Kuksin emphasizes, in 95% of cases forest fires are the result of human activity. According to the same survey, only a third of the country's inhabitants know where to call if they notice a forest fire. Therefore, as noted by Grigory Kuksin, the best that can be done is to give up all efforts to educate people and prevent fires. Then enormous costs will not be required to extinguish them. 

“Whether we are talking about legislation, about responsible work, about educational activities - everything is ultimately changed only by people,” the scientist notes. “Not money, not super-equipment, but people who decided to change the world around them.”

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