Russia Lacks Funds to Contain Rampant Forest Fires
From Steve Harrigan, CNN News, July 7, 1999
A record heat wave has fueled more than 1,000 forest fires in the region around Moscow, with just one helicopter to track them down. "Every day, there's 30 new fires. That's every single day, and again and again," said pilot Albert Ignatiev. The flames are not always easy to spot because many fires are several feet underground, invisibly gnawing away at peat bogs. To fight the blazes, firefighters must douse everything in the area. With poor equipment, no roads and no money for gasoline, the biggest struggle for firefighters is merely reaching the scene. Besides the shortage of funds, Russia's Forest Service blames a careless public for letting fires spread. "It's either a cigarette butt or a campfire. They just don't get it, that you can't start fires in the forest," said the Forest Service's Igor Minakov. Some 70 miles (113 km) south of Moscow, villagers are preparing to flee the advancing flames. "I stand by my window and watch everything burn," one resident said. "My grandson and I are ready if we have to run for it." A change in weather may be their only hope. "The only thing that's going to stop this fire is rain. It hasn't rained for two months," said firefighter Vladimir Popov. So far there have been no casualties, according to the Emergency Situations Ministry. But at the very least, it will be years before anything can grow on a large swath of Russian cropland.