A massive cloud of thick smoke and cloud obscured more than 275,700 square miles (443,696 square km) of Siberia from satellite view in late July 2022. That’s larger than the country of Morocco. It’s also larger than the state of Texas, the second-largest state in the United States. The smoke was rising from many dozens of fires burning across lush taiga and peat soils, primarily in Yakutia (Sakha Republic) and Khabarovsk Krai, Russia. In the southeast, smoke reaches over the coastal Sea of Okhotsk.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired a true-color image of the scene on July 23. Each red “hot spot” marks an area where the thermal bands on the MODIS instrument have detected high temperatures. When accompanied by smoke (as in this image), such hot spots are diagnostic for actively burning fires.
Fires have been burning in the region since at least late April. On May 10, several media outlets reported that Russian President Vladmir Putin said, in a meeting shown on state TV, that the Siberian fires were posing significant material damage and posing a threat to life, the environment, and the economy, and urged regional officials deal with the forest fires. On the weekend before his speech, at least eight people had been killed and hundreds of buildings destroyed. At that time, 4,000 fires had burned about 270,000 hectares.
Since May, the fires have intensified. According to Sakha’s emergencies ministry, 51 fires burned across roughly 9,737 hectares (38 square miles) on July 18 in Sakha alone. More than 500 people were fighting the fires in Sakha, and thousands more were deployed to fire fronts across Russia, according to Russia’s ministry of emergency situations (EMERCOM).
On July 29, The Siberian Times tweeted “Wildfires rage across Yakutia, Russia’s coldest & largest territory, with more than 150,000 hectares on fire. Air quality in the republic’s capital is polluted to more than 36 times above the norm; there is a ban to enter the woods for 21 days in all of Yakutia”. A follow-up tweet on July 30 stated, “the overall territory burned by wildfires has reached 325,000 hectares”.
For the past two years, Sakha Republic (Yakutia) has endured unusually severe fire seasons. In 2021, more than 8.4 million hectares of forests burned in Sakha, nearly four times the long-term average.