YAKUTIA, July 19 (Reuters) – Russian planes seeded clouds to bring rain to massive wildfires raging in Siberia’s Yakutia region that spread dangerously close to a hydroelectric plant in one place, authorities said Monday.
During a heat wave, fires erupted across Russia, tearing up more than 1.5 million hectares of land in Yakutia, the worst affected region. On Sunday, officials said people should stay indoors and keep windows closed because of the smoke.
The regional capital Yakutsk, also known as the coldest city in the world, had to suspend flights at the airport due to poor visibility, and transport over the Lena River that cuts through Siberia was also interrupted.
Fires flare up annually across Russian forest land, but have intensified in recent years with unusually high temperatures in the northern Siberian tundra. Yakutia herself is in the throes of a heat wave.
According to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), part of a European Union observation program, fires in the region have spewed out about 150 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent in less than two months — close to Venezuela’s annual fossil fuel emissions in 2017.
On Monday, a Beriev Be-200 amphibious aircraft, flown in from another Siberian region, joined a massive fire-control effort that involved more than 2,000 firefighters on the ground.
About 123 fires raged across an area of more than 885,000 hectares on Monday, the region’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry said.
Firefighters took special care to contain one fire that spans 41,300 acres, it said.
“There is a natural weir of the river Vilyuy, but the fire is potentially dangerous for the … Svetlinskaya hydroelectric power station,” it said.
Small-scale fires burned in less remote parts of the country.
More than 6,500 firefighters battled to contain the blazes across the country. In Karelia, a region bordering Finland, authorities have evacuated more than 600 people from villages because of fires, the TASS news agency reported.
Reporting by Reuters TV; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mike Collett-White
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