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This will not be long -- and certainly not scholarly -- but there has been so little coverage of these fires, which are on a scale that dwarfs those in Colorado, that I felt someone ought to draw some little attention to them.  I found out about them first while reading Die Zeit, which is just possibly Germany's most erudite and most highly respected weekly paper.  I've translated bits of the article, which I'll quote below the dipsy-doodle squiggle.  

Das Feuer in Sibirien ist außer Kontrolle - The Fire in Siberia is out of control

Across vast stretches of Siberia, forests and dried-out moorlands have been burning for weeks.  The fire storm is now sweeping through the largest district of Krasnoyarsk, but the regions of Tuva, Irkutsk, Tomsk, and the Republic of Chacassia are also affected.  More than a hundred fires are raging across an area from the border with Mongolia in the south and well into central Siberia.  Many people have died in the flames.
This is a huge area.  We're not talking about a few scores of square miles but thousands.  
In many places the fire is clearly out of control.  However, so far the world community has scarcely taken any notice of it at all.  The Russian government has only published sparse information thus far; environmentalists believe the numbers regarding the size of this natural catastrophe to be grossly underestimated.  
I suppose this is typical:  in a country where information has often been very closely controlled and in a region with a very small, scattered population, news is slow to leak out.  
The situation appears dramatic:  today the Russian Catastrophe Protection Center, Emercom, said that within 24 hours more than 130 new fires have broken out.  Other media reported more than 180 fires several days ago.

The size of the affected area is difficult to determine.  While many sources speak of 15,000 to 23,000 hectares (48-89 sq. miles), RIA-Novosti, a state media organ, told a Greenpeace activist that it believes an area of 11 million hectares (42,470 sq miles) is more realistic.  

If the Novosti figure is correct, the area in flame is utterly unfathomable.  Here are a couple links to Novosti's English-language reports that Google News dug up:

Firefighters Keep Battling Wildfires in Russia’s Far East

Siberia Gripped by Forest Fires

There are also some NASA links, but I'm pressed for time right now.

One further note:  I have not found the 42,490 square mile quote in any of the English-language reports, only in the German article.  Unfortunately, I neither speak nor read Russian, so I can't attack the search that way.  Maybe others here can.  In any event, I think we can be happy that our fires have not been this severe.  

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Comment Preferences

  •  Wildly divergent figures (5+ / 0-)

    I'm not sure any of the acreage numbers should be considered accurate at this point.  This article cites 18000 hectares and 23000 hectares as government figures while citing a Greenpeace Russia representative who fingers 3 million hectares affected with 500,000 hectares actively burning.

    Personally, I'm suspicious of both sets of numbers.  The Russian government doesn't have a staggeringly trustworthy record for this sort of thing, but Greenpeace Russia has a well-deserved reputation for playing fast and loose with science as well.

    Regardless, this is ugly.  Hopefully it will not escalate to the sort of situation they saw in 2010.

    "All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others." -Douglas Adams

    by Serpents Choice on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 02:50:10 PM PDT

  •  NASA (14+ / 0-)

    photos here and here and here.
    Looks fairly extensive.

    "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

    by northsylvania on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 03:05:22 PM PDT

    •  that's going to be the most reliable... (4+ / 0-)

      .... public information on this: NASA photos, which knowledgeable people can interpret as to how many square miles are involved.  Here it's important to differentiate between two things:  1) the number of square miles that have burned altogether, and 2) the number of square miles that presently are on fire.  Confusion between those two numbers is probably going to be common in the published news accounts, so we need to be aware of this when we report whatever figures we're seeing.

      Obama will have access to the most reliable source of all: NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) satellite photos, which by definition are top secret information.  The Administration knows exactly what's going on there.  

      If Obama says anything at all about this, he'll refer to the NASA photos.  

      Some day there'll be publicly-available email addresses to space station crew members, and the press (including the blogosphere) will be able to ask them directly.  

      "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 05:32:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This apparently has been going on since June (6+ / 0-)

    one of those NASA links is from 19 June, when there were 189 fires burning. In reviewing the NASA earth observation website, it appears that Siberia has been on fire in one place or another since late April.  There are a series of satellite images documenting this from April, June, July, and now this one from 3 August.

    "Mitt Romney has more positions than the Kama Sutra." -- me "Social justice is love, made public." -- Cornel West

    by billlaurelMD on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 03:43:38 PM PDT

  •  Amazing, frightening. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, G2geek, FarWestGirl, BlueMississippi

    It's hard to believe that this kind of disaster would go unnoticed in the media.  But we've seen it before.  
    Since June?  

    Just yesterday, there was an ominous diary about a cyclone currently raging at the North Pole.  
    Climate change is real and it's here.

    Thanks, Gulf.

  •  Officials say that 1.3 million hectares (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek, FarWestGirl, BlueMississippi

    has been on fire at some point this year. This year most fires are far from major cities so the media pays less attention to them compared to 2010 when they were near Moscow and other cities. The area that is on fire right now is quite a bit smaller, somewhere in the tens of thousands of hectares. This is all official data and the estimates may very well be low. I don't have links in English for everything.

  •  The picture tells the story (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek, FarWestGirl, crose

    and in this instance does not lie.
    NASA Sat photo from August 3, 2012

    Even though the NASA page contains this statement at the bottom
    Official estimates differ on the size of the area currently affected by burning, ranging from 18,000 to 23,000 hectares (70 to 90 square miles), according to news reports.

    The handy 50 kilometer rule they provide on the photo nulls that by showing the large fire on the lower left is by itself roughly 2500 square kilometers or 250,000 hectares in size and it's only one of many fires that appear to have burned into one large complex that covers between 25,000-30,000 square kilometers or 2.5 to 3 million hectares.

    This was just one night in a long season of fires. I can see the 11 million hectare figure as a close estimate of what has burned year to date throughout the entire country.

    •  important to differentiate between: (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FarWestGirl, 59stevenm

      1)  Total area that has burned during the entire period of time we're interested in, and

      2)  Area that is presently on fire.  

      The numbers for (1) are going to be much higher than (2), and this will be a source of confusion in media reports.  It's important for us to state which category we're referring to when we report on this.  

      "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 05:36:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm not a reporter (0+ / 0-)

        Just trying to point out that the photo from NASA clearly shows an area with a border roughly the size of Vermont actively burning, and when you consider that this is just a single night (though of course all of those fires took a few days at least to burn together like that) the high number of 11 million hectares isn't unbelievable to me for a year to date total.

        The official estimates don't even come close to what's really happening today, or last week, when that satellite photo was taken.

        If anyone is placing all their Russian fire data eggs in this comment thread basket, I feel confident that the information they're getting is pretty close to the truth, but at the same time urge them to search out multiple sources and get a more accurate picture of what's happening before acting on any life or death decisions relating to Siberian conflagrations.

        If there are any doubts, simply use an object to match the 50 km distance key on the lower left of the photo linked and mark out the perimeters of the fires using simple arithmetic to get your own estimate.

  •  US fire data (5+ / 0-)

    From 1960 forward, wildfire in the US burns between 3 and 9 million acres every year. The average (from the graph I looked at) looks like around 6 or 7 million acres. You can find numbers and graphs for the US in USFS "Forest Facts" or "Forest Inventory" publications online.

    3 million hectares would be 7.5 million acres - normally the US ranks third in acres burned behind Russia and Canada (both are larger area and have proportionally more forest), so 3 million hectares probably isn't outside the historical range for Russia.

    11 million hectares would be 27 million acres - not quite a third more than the area covered by Indonesian fires in recent years. That would be a huge amount of forest burned, but probably not a huge percentage of total forest area there. The US has about 750 million acres of forest (about half of that in the west alone), or about 300 million hectares. Siberia is about 50% larger than the US, and probably has a larger percentage in its various forest types.

    Fires of that size account for a sizable percentage of total global GHG emissions - as much as 15% or more by some estimates. They also re-emit mercury deposited from burning coal or volcanic activity.

    I don't know the areas burning in Siberia, but I would suspect that a lot of the acreage is logged over, probably illegally, and it's slash and brush burning. Illegal logging in Siberia mostly goes to supply lumber mills and wood products manufacturing - for Ikea, Home Depot, Target and others - in China. Ikea is also logging large amounts of Russian old growth in the areas near Finland (there was an Al Jazeera article about it about a month ago).

    In Soviet Russia, you rob bank. In America, bank robs you.

    by badger on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 05:54:07 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for the information. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FarWestGirl, PeterHug

    I haven't seen it anywhere else.

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 06:22:13 PM PDT

  •  for perspective (3+ / 0-)

    there´s a public viewable near real time satellite fire map covering the whole earth, from the MODIS satellites:


    (one can select the week/weeks of interest).

    yes, it shows that the siberian fires are vastly more extensive than US fires. But it also shows that they are themselves dwarfed at least in number by day to day slash and burn fires throughout the subtropical forest belts.

    grim maps to look at.

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