RUSSIA

"The government says everything's under control, but it's not true"

Since the beginning of August, calls for volunteers to combat the fires that are ravaging the country have increased. Our Observers explain that the measures which have been put into place are just not enough. …

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Screen shot of a video posted 30 July 2010 on Youtube by Mr Limson.

Since the beginning of August, calls for volunteers to combat the fires which are ravaging the country have increased. Our Observers explain that the measures which have been put into place to fight the fires are insufficient. 

Already burning for days, the forest fires in Russia do not show any signs of dying down. According to official reports, more than 19,000 hectares have already gone up in smoke and 52 people have died.

In the capital, streets are gradually becoming deserted as Moscow’s residents seek refuge not only from the thick smoke caused by the fires, but also from the record-breaking temperatures.

Many have fled the city, where the carbon dioxide levels are three times the danger threshold. Travel agents are inundated by Muscovites seeking fresh air. For those unable to escape, the authorities have set up 123 smoke-free centres: air-conditioned rooms set up in hospitals and public buildings.

On the fire front, the government has accepted help from several European countries, such as Italy, Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan, who have lent fire fighting equipment. France has sent six pilots and technicians on a fire-fighting airplane.

"They don’t even have fans or air conditioning to help the people"

Leonid Razvozhaev is an activist for the Left Front political organisation. In his blog he says the smoke-free centres lack sufficient funding.

The authorities in Moscow have opened 123 help centres in the capital, one is located close to my place. To escape the smoke, I went to see how it works and to breath some fresh air. But one of the employees of the centre told me that they did not have fans nor air conditioning to help people, who are overwhelmingly the poorest of the city.

The situation is worsening because they have boasted about these centres in television reports. Many people have shown up in desperation and have been extremely disappointed. They have discovered that once again they have been deceived."

"We work all day, but at night it's too dangerous"

Alexei Ureivich is a 29-year-old architect. For the past two days he has been fighting fires.

I closed my architecture studio on Friday to combat the forest fires. I started by gathering food and water. Then with a group of five young volunteers, we decided to go to a place two hours outside of Moscow where the fires were first discovered.

It has been two days that we have been fighting the flames alongside five firefighters from the town of Iegorievsk. On arrival, we discovered that there was only one fire engine, which is very slow for emergency operations.

Together we tried to stop the forest fire approaching the houses. I saw a village which had burnt to the ground, I don’t know if there were any victims. We work all day, but it is too dangerous at night. It really is a race against time.

The firefighters are very competent, but they really need more people. At this rate, we won’t be able to completely stop the fires. I hope that we receive aid from other countries because our government does not have enough fire engines nor firefighters.

The official line in the press is that everything is fine, it is all under control, but it’s not true. They can’t control the situation. We need professional firefighters, not volunteers."

This amateur video shows the limited resources available to combat the forest fires. It was shot in the region of Riazan, southeast of Moscow. Video posted 30 July 2010 on Youtube by Mr Limson.