Russia on Wednesday deployed military planes to aid some 2,000 ground firefighters battling forest fires that rage over nearly 800,000 hectares (about 2 million acres) in Siberia.
The Defense Ministry said it had sent Ilyushin II-76 transport planes to the Sakha-Yakutia region for water bomb attacks. Military helicopters were also used to transport firefighters and conduct reconnaissance flights to locate the worst fires.
Russian forest fire agency Avialesookhrana said on Tuesday the situation was worse in Yakutia, where 144 fires are burning more than 578,000 hectares. In total, some 300 fires are raging in Siberia.
The military’s help came after local residents asked President Vladimir Putin to send more resources and equipment to help put out the fires.
Firefighters in the field face tough conditions
The Kremlin has come under criticism that Russia has sent firefighting aid to other countries like Greece and Turkey while ignoring fires on its own territory. The government responded on Wednesday saying the fires had become difficult 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 suffering from burns that did not take place before”.
Forest fires in the northern Siberian tundra, an annual event, have become more intense in recent years due to unusually high temperatures in the region.
Firefighters trying to fight the fires have to contend with heat, flies, mosquitoes and swamps, while strong winds blowing the flames have made their task even more difficult.
tj / msh (Reuters, AP)