State of emergency in Russia’s Yakutia expanded over fires

MOSCOW , Aug 13 (AP) — Russian authorities expanded a state of emergency in northeast Siberia on Friday to help bring in outside resources to combat wildfires that have engulfed the vast region.

Russian Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev declared the state of emergency for Sakha-Yakutia. The move should help organize the transfer of firefighting resources from other regions to help fight the blazes in Yakutia, which is Russia’s largest territory and bigger than Argentina.

“It allows us to use the capabilities of the federal reserve more freely and make quicker decisions regarding the federal funding for fighting forest fires,” Yakutia head Aysen Nikolayev said.

Federal authorities deployed 200 additional firefighters, two additional Be-200 amphibious planes and two helicopters to help fight the fires.

The vast territory, also known as Sakha Republic, has faced a spell of particularly devastating wildfires this year following months of hot and dry weather featuring record-breaking temperatures.

On Friday, officials reported 117 active forest fires burning across nearly 1.4 million hectares (3.4 million acres) in Yakutia, which encompasses 308.4 million hectares (762 million acres).

Flames threatened a dozen villages, and several were evacuated this week.

Smoke from burning forests has enveloped wide areas and forced the airport in the regional capital of Yakutsk to suspend operations Thursday. Flights resumed Friday to what is often described as the coldest city on Earth.

In recent years, Russia has recorded high temperatures that many scientists regard as a result of climate change. The hot weather coupled with the neglect of fire safety rules has caused a growing number of fires.

Experts blame the worsening situation with fires on a 2007 decision to disband a federal aviation network tasked to spot and combat fires and turn its assets to regional authorities. The forests that cover huge areas of Russia make spotting new fires a challenge, and the much-criticized transfer led to the force’s rapid decline.