Have you got light?
Last summer will never come back?
This year we managed to avoid the catastrophic fires that hit Russia last year. The fire-hazardous season is not over yet; however, we can already maintain that forest fires protection has improved a lot, and better management decisions have been made. Together with sufficient financial resources invested in the forest sector, the measures taken by the Government of the RF gave positive effect.
Revival of the governmental forest guard service has probably become the key event of the year for foresters. Special forest firefighting facilities were established in the regions, and now they get direct funding without any auctions. In order to increase awareness about the local situation with forest fires, the regions got dispatcher offices that ensure communication between forestries and the headquarters at FSE “Avialesoohrana” for making daily management decisions.
Upon the order of the Forestry Service headquarters, each subject of the FR developed its own forest fire extinguishing plan with the list of all firefighting means and resources available in the region, as well as their location and possibility to be used in emergency cases. There is an interregional plan for maneuvering firefighting resources, which was used several times when the forest fire situation aggravated in Yakutia, Zabaikalsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Irkutsk regions.
Political decisions were supported financially. This year, fire security costs are 4 times higher than in 2010. Breakdown of 9,5 billion RUR from the federal budget: 4,5 billion RUR for firefighting measures in the regions and 5,0 billion RUR for procuring her forest firefighting machines for equipping so-called fire chemical stations (new type FCS). As a result, the regions for new fire engines, bulldozers, and tractors that some of the regions has not got since the times of the Soviet Union.
In order to deliver the machinery immediately, the Government of the RF approved a list of manufacturers of forest firefighting machinery and equipment, from which subjects of the Federation bought the machines without auctions. I.e. a complete system was built, which on the one hand, provided the regions with money for buying necessary machinery for forest protection, and on the other hand, it allowed purchasing straight from the factories.
From Chita to Archangelsk
Despite all preventive measures, in some cases the situation had to be resolved “in manual mode”. During the peak of the fire-hazardous season, the supervisor of the forest sector, the first vice Prime Minister of the Government of the RF Victor Zubkov personally conducted telephone conferences to discuss the situation in the regions. At one of the meetings Victor Zubkov admitted that “the farther from the capital, the weaker is the level of responsibility of managers in some regions”, and he reminded the governors the words of the President who said that the regions have to fight fires, but not the White House or Kremlin.
The first regions to be hit with fires were Zabaikalsk region and Republic of Buryatiya, where they were caused by inconsiderate actions of people, i.e. agricultural burning and indeliberate arsons. The situation in those regions was neglected from the very beginning by not having increased people’s awareness. When Moscow paid attention to the emergency, fires had already seized vast territories and did not stop due to strong winds and no precipitations. Officials from profile agencies and Rosleskhoz were sent to Chita to clarify the situation and help regional authorities.
Then Yakutiya inflamed. The emergency situation in the Republic of Saha – where just from May 9 to May 16 over a hundred thousand hectares were burning – required emergency measures. Victor Zubkov sent the head of Rosleskhoz to that Far East region to evaluate the work of regional authorities and forest firefighting services on the spot. The result is well-known: the head of republican Forest Relations Department Vyacheslav Olesov was fired. The representative of Rosleskhoz in Far East Federal District followed him. During the meeting of the head of the republic Egor Borisov and the head of Rosleskhoz, clear mechanisms for the interactions between the republican authorities and federal government were identified in order to prevent similar situations.
After Yakutia, big fires raged at the border between Krasnoyarsk region and Priangje that resulted in blackouts in some settlements in Krasnoyarsk region. The head of Rosleskhoz suggested imposing the interregional emergency regime envisaged in the legislation of the RF. With the aim to prevent the critical situation, the crisis center of Rosleskhoz made a decision to organize interregional deployment of smoke jumpers with the help of the aviation of the Emercom of Russia.
At the emergency meeting dedicated to the situation in Priangje and Krasnoyarsk region, Victor Zubkov warned the governors that the regions of the RF would get money for forest protection only under the condition of mid-sized fires. If the situation is out of control, the regions will have to pay for firefighting themselves. In that way the government stimulated the regions to pay more attention to fire prevention and timely detection.
The maximal fifth class of fire hazard was expected to arrive in some northwestern regions and Siberia in midsummer. The vice Prime Minister required the heads of the regions to refrain from vacations at that time. And in a couple of days bad fires hit Archangelsk region and the Republic of Komi. Pomorje announced the emergency situation due to fires, and Archangelsk was covered with smoke.
The governor of Archangelsk region Ilya Mikhalchuk asked for the regime of interregional emergency as the region could not cope with the disaster. One of the serious problems was lack of aviation fuel. The region actually exhausted its stock during a month of firefighting. Deputy head of the White House agreed with his arguments, but before making the final decision he decided to learn the opinion of the head of the Republic of Komi Vyacheslav Gaizer. The latter flatly refused from the services of the federal headquarters but asked for the backup from smoke jumpers who could put out the fires quickly.
Following the capital
The situation with large forest fires in Archangelsk region and in the Republic of Komi is typical for many forest regions of Russia. Despite the measures taken at the federal level there are still some big systematic gaps in facilitating local prevention, detection and extinguishing of forest fires. First of all this is late imposing of the emergency mode when vast forest fires emerge and settlements and industries are in danger. For instance, in the Republic of Saha, Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk regions the emergency mode was imposed late. Untimely or insufficient augmentation of firefighting resources as well as slow pace of forest fire extinguishing did not allow immediate decision making on deploying firefighting forces and means under the condition of complex forest fire situation.
Victor Zubkov held Moscow region as an example of effective forest fire protection as 90% of fires are extinguished the same day there. “It turns out that everything is possible when people and machinery are on alert, noted the first vice Prime Minister. Everything is liquidated the same day, if something goes on fire due to the fault of people. And in many regions they put out only 10-15% of the fire during the first day. That is why fires seize such huge territories, and professional paratroopers, planes and helicopters are required. This is the evidence for the fact that regions do not make sufficient efforts against forest fires and have no sufficient means”.
Much attention of both federal and regional authorities was paid to the responsibility of people guilty of fires. The order by Rosleskhoz “there should be a case opened for each large fire” was not recognized as serious by everybody and everywhere. However, the process has started. According to the information from the Ministry of Interior of RF, as of August 1, 469 criminal cases were opened to investigate large forest fires. At one of the meetings, the first vice Prime Minister challenged law-enforcement agencies with more active use of criminal and administrative liability for violating the rules for behaving in the forests. The governors had to personally control the issue of making the parties at fault of large forest fires responsible.
Now, when the summer is over, the management of Rosleskhoz recommends the regions to prepare for the season of 2012 taking into account the tasks and comments verbalized during this year. The Agency notes that experience of anti-crisis management of forest firefighting was gained, which should be made the best use of next year.
Since the beginning of the year and till September 8, 18,9 thousand forest fires were registered on the territory of the forest fund of the RF, what is 42% less than last year. The total burnt area made 1,1 million ha, what is 14% less than last year. In Moscow region, in total 746 fires started during the fire-hazardous season, what is almost 3,5 times fewer than during the previous season. Only 479 ha were burnt, and it is 50 times less than last year.
From the first person
Ilya Mikhalchuk, Governor of Archangelsk region:
– Summer of 2011 was dry and hot in Archangelsk region. There hasn’t been such a summer in Pomorje since 1972, without a single rain, it was rather like in Central Asia and not in a northern region. Clouds brought so-called dry thunders instead of long-awaited rain, and they only aggravated the fire hazard in the region. Meteorologists registered drought in the air and soil. The average water level in rivers dropped by 50-150 cm. Everything, including financing, machinery and people, was prepared for the average forest fire situation. The region turned out not to be ready for the heat wave of 2011.
Before 2006, the total number of people engaged in forest guard in Archangelsk region was 3 thousand people. Reorganization of the forest sector cut this figure by 8 times. In 2011, the number of people in the branches of the regional forest service was 281 persons, and SE “Avialesoohrana” was 76 persons.
As a result, given the fifth class of fire hazard in the forests, we had to call for specialists from other regions. People and machines were mobilized at a large scale in each “burning” district, and 1350 people and 6 planes were called for in the framework of the interregional operation. Additional resources were allocated for extinguishing fires from the reserve fund of the governor, law-enforcement agencies opened dozens of criminal cases for arsons in the forests, and about a thousand protocols were made for violating the fire safety regime.
In order to prevent similar situation it is indispensable to finance all services dealing with fire detection and extinguishing. For instance, there is only one meteorological station that can detect thunderstorms in Archangelsk region. Seven of them are necessary for such a vast territory as Pomorje. The region does not have any equipment that can register “dry thunderstorm”, and when the weather is hot, like this year, then each dry thunderstorm guarantees fire.
The last changes in the Forest Code gave an opportunity to establish adequate forest guard. In Archangelsk region, they are planning to establish a unified special forest firefighting service by the next fire-hazardous season. In the future it can become the regional center for forest firefighting in the all-Russian system of interregional maneuvers, and the actions will be coordinated by Rosleskhoz.
Vyacheslav GAIZER, Head of the Republic of Komi:
– I think all forest territories have two major problems. The first one is the challenge of firefighting in remote forest areas. For instance, the situation this year when the forest was burning at the border between the Republic of Komi and Archangelsk region in 50 km from settlements, where people have never been. It is extremely difficult to work in those conditions, because one can take there neither people, nor machinery. As a result, the fire spreads quite much before people get to the spot.
The second issue, which I would actually make number one, is human factor. Unfortunately, some people are careless in the forest, and the result is that camping fires are left, cigarettes, and children play with fire. Therefore, every year we have an outburst of fires after weekends. The issue cannot be solved with sheer persuasion, and that’s why we apply administrative measures, we patrol the territory and punish perpetrators. According to statistics, the situation has improved this year.
Concerning the issue of early fire detection, which caused so many misfortunes some time ago, we can say that this year we rented several light planes: Yak-18, L-200 Morava and Cessna. As a result, we totally solved the problem of patrolling with the help of light planes, and the issue of fire detection was gone.
Besides, we solved the issue of supplying our regiments with new means of communication that we really need because of the vast distances. A decision was made to earmark money from the reserve fund and buy all necessary items in order not to return to this issue next season. Eventually we got permanent communication among our planes, the dispatchers, foresters and firefighters. I believe next year we will see the results of that work.
Lev KUZNETSOV, Governor of Krasnoyarsk region:
– The last fire-hazardous season turned out to be rather hard for Krasnoyarsk region. We had to impose the emergency mode in several forest districts. However, in all cases the fire spots were under control, and most of them were put out during the first day after detection before they spread up to a catastrophic size. A newly forest firefighting center established, equipped with machinery and gear, and manned with trained personnel by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forest Sector of Krasnoyarsk region contributed a lot to combating the natural disaster. We should note good coordination of interactions of the forest firefighting center with the forestries of the region, forest leasers, Krasnoyarsk forest guard air base, and Emercom. We cannot but mention help from the residents of forest areas who were mobilized for fighting fire during the toughest time of the fire-hazardous season.
Dmitry MEZENTSEV, Governor of Irkutsk region:
– This year the fire-hazardous season started in April, what is a month earlier than in 2010. Despite the hot and dry weather that lasted almost the whole June in some districts of Priangje, we managed keeping the situation under control. Forests in the north of the region suffered from “dry” thunderstorms. A crisis center was established under the Government of Irkutsk region for controlling the forest fire situation. The center includes representatives from Emercom, Ministry of Interior, Prosecutor’s office and other bodies. Special attention was paid to forest fire monitoring and time of detection. Financing of air patrol was increased up to 51 million RUR from the regional budget.
Under an agreement with the police, the forests were patrolled by trainees of Easter Siberian Institute under the Ministry of Interior. Regional forest firefighting center for Irkutsk region was established, and at present they are building up fire-chemical stations of the third type. An agreement was reached with the Federal Forestry Agency about financing several more FCS in Irkutsk region in 2012. Forest firefighting machinery is arriving in Irkutsk region in the framework of the agreement signed with Rosleskhoz, i.e. 22 units of truck tractors, forest fire tracked tractors, bulldozers, fuel trucks and special fire engines. The costs for preventing and combating forest fires will be increased in 2012.
Egor BORISOV, President of the Republic of Saha (Yakutia):
– The forest fire situation of 2011 in the Republic of Saha (Yakutia) once again demonstrated serious problems connected with prevention and fighting forest fires on the huge territory of our republic with the total are of over 2,5 million ha.
We have little personnel in special forest guard services in Yakutia. Obviously insufficient equipment of the services does not allow increasing the speed of extinguishing forest fires, especially in fire-hazardous conditions.
For instance, one of the key conditions for effective forest fire protection is regular air patrol. Meanwhile, the amount of planned subventions in the republic is enough only for 20 percent of the norm for patrolling.
During this truly hard year, 216 million RUR were allocated from the regional budget of Yakutia for forest firefighting and protection of settlements. In order to stabilize forest fire situation enhanced mobilization of people and machinery took place.
Federal Forestry Agency provided considerable support to the republic. Rosleskhoz allocated additional financial aid in the amount of 92 million RUR and promptly sent aviation and paratroopers in the framework of interregional maneuvering.
Now we will have to analyze the experience of responding and extinguishing forest fires on the territory Yakutia in 2011 and take all necessary measures for creating a really effective system for forest fire protection.
(translated by V.Mineev)
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