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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 22:14 GMT 23:14 UK


Russia's wild east ablaze again

There are fears the devastation in eastern Russia could be far worse than a year ago

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Forest fires in the far east of Russia are said to be blazing up again, and threatening to be more widespread than those in 1998.

The governor of the Khabarovsk Kray region, where there are 146 outbreaks, declared an emergency on 19 July.

The number of fires is said to be almost twice as great as at the same time last year, when 2.5 million hectares of forest were destroyed.

So far this year, 200,000 ha have been burnt, with a further 40,000 ha being added to the total every day.

The Russian section of the World Wide Fund for Nature suggests the total lost this year could reach 5 m ha.

More to come

There has been a long drought in the region, with no rain at all for the last two months. The normal July rainfall alone is 122 mm.

The normal temperature in the region is about 20 degrees C, but at the moment it is 30-32 degrees.

The forecast is for the hot, dry weather to continue.

[ image: People and tigers are in the path of the fires]
People and tigers are in the path of the fires
A group of indigenous people, the Nanay, live in the region, which includes valuable virgin forest, and also forms part of the range of the highly endangered Siberian tiger.

In the Sikhote-Alin district, the fires are said to have reached to within 6 km of the Sakhalin-Nikolaev oil pipeline.

The fire-fighting effort involves 1,300 people, and 300 vehicles - but no aircraft.

Alexander Kulikov, WWF Russia's coordinator in Khabarovsk, says there is little prospect of help from the air.

"Twelve planes are sitting there ready to go up, but their tanks are empty.

"The federal government has not even paid what it owes for the fuel used to fight the fires last summer."

The WWF network is launching a worldwide appeal for money and equipment to try to help the Russian firefighters.

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