Many hundreds of fires burned in the forests of Russian on August 6, 2019, when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Terra satellite acquired a true-color image of the smoke-choked taiga north of Lake Baikal.
Irkutsk Oblast sits closest to Lake Baikal with Krasnoyarsk Krai to the north and west, and Sakha Republic (Yakutia) to the north and east. Fires and dense smoke can be seen in all of these regions. Much of Krasnoyarsk Krai lies under a blanket of smoke so thick that the ground is obscured from view.
According to the Russian News Agency Tass, as of August 9 wildfires were burning on 963,000 hectares (more than 2.4 million acres) in Russian’s Krasnoyarsk Region alone. The report also states that “Forest fires in the Krasnoyarsk Region reached a peak last week, engulfing over 1.1 million hectares.” That would be more than 2.7 million acres on fire at once, an area roughly the size of Jamaica, just in Krasnoyarsk. But fires are also fierce in other regions. According to DW Akademie an area of 3.2 million hectares (7.9 million acres) was engulfed by forest fires on July 3 – an area that has expanded across Siberia as the vicious fire season has progressed.
While fires in the Siberian taiga (forests) occur every year and have been doing so for centuries, only in recent years has the fire season lasted so long or burned so widely over some of the coldest, most frozen places on Earth. In the last three years alone, the area affected by forest fires has tripled. The ferocity and extent of these fires not only destroy forests and impact the health of local residents, but are also pushing permafrost melting in the local soils and releasing megatons of greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere. Smoke from Siberian fires has reached the United States in recent weeks.
With Siberia’s temperatures soaring to almost 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) more than the long-term average during June and July, the vegetation, which is adapted to cooler temperatures, has become tinder-dry. Sparks from lightning, from campfires, or the stubs of cigarettes along lumbering roads, quickly ignite the grasses and forests. Flames spread quickly, especially in remote areas where firefighting is most difficult. Early response in some areas was to allow remote fires to continue to burn, without intervention, due to the difficulty and cost of response. By the end of July, however, the infernos had become so wide-spread that the government declared states of emergencies in several regions and began to fight the flames in earnest.