Russian heatwave and fires spark smog fears




Ah, summer in Moscow – the fruit is ripe, the terrace cafes are full, men are shirtless, women nearly so. But amidst the summer laziness, everyone is on high alert fearing a repeat of last year’s horrific smoke-out, as I’ve mentioned before.

It’s been hot here for weeks, but for the past five days it’s been downright scorching, with temperatures above 30C (86F) even past sundown (today we hit 38C). Air conditioning remains a rare luxury, pollution is out of control. It’s hard to breathe. On Monday, there were reports of people in southwestern Moscow smelling the distinctive smoke smell emitted from the peat bog fires that were the cause of last year’s rancid smog. I smelled it for a bit around 2am this morning.

Yesterday, Kommersant reported that, according to Greenpeace, the government is covering up the fact that fires are still raging in two regions adjacent to Moscow (Vladimir and Ryazan, the site of some of the worst fires last year). But I’m cautiously optimistic – last year, the heatwave lasted for weeks before the smoke descended. And there was a drought as well, this year we’ve had regular rainstorms.

But that’s just Moscow. The rest of Russia? Siberia and the Far East? They’re on fire.

The Emergencies Ministry said today that the amount of territory on fire jumped by 20 percent in the past 24 hours – and that after it jumped by 35 percent the previous day.

The Russian government has launched a public awareness campaign (and we don’t get many of those) trying to make people aware of the fact that if you, say, drop a cigarette in the forest, or leave your BBQ burning, you will probably burn down the country. The peat bogs around Moscow are another story – they are constantly burning, an endemic systemic problem that the government will inevitably have to deal with over and over again until they come up with some sort of solution to rehydrate the swamps that were drained during Soviet times. But, hopefully, not this year …

There should be wider concerns. This is the second year in a row that Moscow has seen temperatures way higher than have ever been registered since it began taking records. What gives?