Over 550 Square Kilometers of Siberia Already in Flames as Wildfire Season Starts

ON 06/14/2021 AT 04:47 AM

A Russian emergency services agency reports that major wildfires have broken out in multiple locations in the Siberian north.

Russian Wildfires June 2021

A wildfire shown breaking out near Irkutsk, Russia, photographed on June 13, 2021. Photo: Avialesookhrana, also known as the Russian Aerial Forest Protection Service, via capture from a video feed.

It is happening again, just as it started last year, with massive wildfires, triggered by what even now agency officials are calling abnormally dry summers and high temperatures, burning out-of-control.

Avialesookhrana, the Russian federal agency which is responsible for extinguishing forest fires throughout the country, reported on June 13 that multiple wildfires were already spreading across the northern Siberian coast.

Sakha Republic, located in Russia’s northeastern region, was identified as where the most widespread of the fires was located. As of the latest reports, some 34,000 hectares (74,000 acres) were already on fire.

Siberia’s Irkutsk region was also in serious trouble, with some 20,000 hectares (49,500 acres) up in flames as of Sunday.

The emergency agency said that so far no human lives had been lost and no residential damage had been recorded at this time.

The fires have been a common sight in this area in recent years, as the climate crisis has left the southern Arctic and the northern Siberian coast with increasingly higher-than-normal temperatures in the areas. The wildfires are triggered by lightning and some likely human mistakes. When the Siberian fires rage hottest, they penetrate the once ever-present permafrost, releasing trapped carbon dioxide and methane at high rates into the atmosphere.

This year there were already significantly hotter-than normal atmospheric waves passing throughout Russia. In mid-May this year, for example, the river port Sarapul in the Udmurt Republic of Russia recorded a record high temperature of 33.6° C (92.5° F), and the western banks of the Ural River saw temperatures rise to 34.6° C (94.3° F).

These temperatures and others across Europe were in some places as much as 20° C (36° F) hotter than normal from mid to late May this year.

The high heat has contributed to further drying out of the northern Russian forests, effectively preparing kindling for wildfires of the kinds which just broke out.

Last year a similar weather pattern produced a 5X increase in Siberian forest fires over past years. This year’s fire breakouts suggest the climate crisis has already laid in the groundwork for what could be an even worse set of fires in the region running from now through at least August.