With average January temperatures of -40 degrees Celsius, Sakha is famous for being one of the coldest parts of Russia. But in July 2014, it wasn’t the cold that worried the nearly million people who live there. It was fire.
On July 11, dry lightning ignited dozens of fires in boreal forests in central and southern Sakha, as well as in neighboring Irkutsk. Initially, these fires appeared as tiny spots of red to the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites.
By June 15, plumes of smoke had started to emerge in MODIS imagery. By July 18, thick smoke was billowing from the fires, turning broad swaths of the atmosphere gray and brown as the smoke mixed with clouds arriving from the west. By July 26, when the MODIS aboard NASA’s Terra satellite captured this true-color image, multiple streams of smoke swirled over Sakha, shifting course based on the direction of the winds. The intense river of smoke flowed southward over Mongolia and China.
According to the Siberian Times on July 21, states of emergency had been declared in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), where over 1,000 people had been evacuated, as well as Kransnoyarsk and Irkutsk. On July 25, 85 fires in the Siberian Federal District had burned 110,000 hectares, and firefighters were credited with extinguishing another 26 fires on 32,500 hectares in the previous 24 hours. Another 34 fires were reported in Russia’s Far East.
On 25 July, 85 forest fires covering 110,000 hectares were raging in the Siberian Federal District. Firefighters had extinguished another 26 fires covering 32,500 hectares in the previous 24 hours, but another 34 were burning the Russian Far East.