Wildfire scandal in Siberia
by Olga Khrustaleva at 03/10/2011 23:54
Scandal erupted in the Siberian city of Bratsk in the Irkutsk region when wildfires around the city got out of control – but while local officials were blamed, some experts accuse the Emergencies Ministry of passing the buck.
Alexander Tuikov, the Bratsk head of city administration, resigned after the city and the sur- rounding regions were choked with smoke from local wildfires, with schools closing down and large numbers of people having to seek medical attention. Local officials are putting the blame on arsonists – according to Rosbalt, over twenty suspects have been named, though their motives remain unclear.
Echo Moskvy radio station quoted local blogger Mjonaus as saying that “the local authorities were idle until information about the wildfires reached the higher- ups in Moscow.”
The fires in Bratsk started on September 19, but a state of emergency was declared only 10 days later – when President Dmitry Medvedev and Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke out in criticism of local officials. “Five hectares of forest under-growth are burning in the city center,” Shoigu said angrily during a video conference with local authorities. “And you with mayor and the fire brigade are telling me you can’t put it out? If each of you took a watering can and watered that section of forest, we wouldn’t need to listen to you now.”
Although the air in Bratsk itself is clearing, wildfires in the surrounding areas continue – according to RBK Daily, the Emergen- cies Ministry has dispatched extra airplanes and staff to secure the area, while military cadets from Irkutsk have been dispatched to stand guard against any more arson attempts.
According to Greenpeace, placing the blame squarely onto the shoulders of the local administration is a cop-out. “I wouldn’t mind if the mayor [of Bratsk] was fired, but this is no more than looking for someone to dump the entirety of the blame on,” Alexey Kiselyov, head of the forest department at Greenpeace Russia, told The Moscow News. “There is forest burning 200 kilometers from Bratsk, and not only in the Bratsk region, but in the neighboring regions too – so first it’s a failure of the federal administration, and the administration of the Irkutsk region, and then it’s a failure of the local government.”
Kiselyov said that he believes the Emergencies Ministry to be mainly responsible for the situa- tion getting out of control – and conf irmed that the f ires appear to be man-made. “The two main causes behind wildf ires are usu- ally dry grass and leaving fires un-extinguished in the woods – the former is very likely the cause behind the fires in Bratsk,” he said.
According to Kiselyov, the main reason behind Russia’s continuing problems with wildfires has to do with the introduction of new legis- lation known as the Forest Code of 2006. The legislation dramatically decreased the number of foresters and other people directly respon- sible for the forest environment in Russia. “Now there are 16,000 people left taking care of the forests – as opposed to 100,000 who were in charge of the forests before 2006,” Kiselev said. “These 16,000 are mostly writing reports and taking care of paperwork… And the forests look abandoned.”
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