Devastating wildfires are still raging in southeast Siberia, Russia. Two weeks ago they became a catastrophe in Zabaikalsky krai. A state of emergency was announced: fire had reached 17 settlements, destroyed about 100 houses and devastated more than 200 backyards and farm buildings. Over 600 people had lost their possessions while 34 people had suffered burns. About 12,000 farm animals were lost, with one person dying of fatal burns while trying to save cattle.

Greenpeace Russia Firefighters Delivering Humanitarian Aid © Maria Vasileva / Greenpeace

During the wildfire catastrophe in Zabaikalsky krai (Siberia, Russia) the Greenpeace Russia firefighting team along with a representative of three charity foundations went to the area to deliver humanitarian aid mainly consisting burn treatment bandages. © Maria Vasileva / Greenpeace

The Greenpeace Russia firefighting team along with a representative of three charity foundations went to the area to deliver humanitarian aid mainly consisting burn-treatment bandages, which local hospitals are short of. The group supported the efforts of local firefighters and supplied them with spare parts for the firefighting gear. The team leader, Grigory Kuksin shared his impressions following the field trip.     

“On the way to southeast Siberia we already knew what we were going to see: smoldering ruins, burnt animal corpses, scorched prairies — people who lost everything in the fire.

Our first task was to deliver humanitarian aid and supplies to one of the most remote areas in Zabaikalsky krai. Several families with young children there had lost their homes and belongings in the wildfires. So, we brought them clothes, food, bedding, medicines and other basic things that had been collected in the regional center – Chita. On our way, our team had to pass the main affected areas. In some of them, fires had not yet been extinguished.

Wildfires in Southeast Siberia © Maria Vasileva / Greenpeace

“On our way to the destination we saw the dangerous glow of a huge fire.” © Maria Vasileva / Greenpeace

On our way to the destination we saw the dangerous glow of a huge fire. Storms had spread the fire in the air and everything was covered in smoke. That is how the wildfire spread here: strong wind, moving the flames rapidly from one settlement to another, catching the locals off guard. We halted for a moment to receive the latest information to make sure it would be safe to move on.

The next day we arrived at our destination point and dropped off the supplies. Some settlements had been burnt down to embers. Locals had no time to stop the devastating flames, as it all happened so suddenly. They couldn’t even tell where the fire had come from; there was already so much dust and ash in the air that they only spotted the fire when it was already near their homes. As there is no mobile phone coverage in the village, people had to drive for an hour to get to the city and call the rescue team. Fortunately, they managed to save their lives by helping each other in the evacuation”.

Remains of a Settlement after a Wildfire in Siberia © Maria Vasileva / Greenpeace

Remains of a Settlement after a Wildfire in Siberia. © Maria Vasileva / Greenpeace

This is no natural catastrophe; this is a totally human-made crisis. Strong winds only spread the fire that had most likely started in most cases by arson.

European wildfires most often start in spring, when barbeques and bonfires become the popular seasonal entertainment. There are simple rules you can follow to prevent these kinds of disasters:

  •      Before starting a campfire make sure there are no fire prevention warnings in the area;
  •      Never dispose of burning cigarettes before completely extinguishing them;
  •      Don’t use petrol and kerosene for your campfire, it can easily get out of hand
  •      Never leave a campfire unattended. To extinguish it, use plenty water,stir the ashes well, so             that the fire will not rekindle, check if the ashes have cooled down.
  •      Never burn dry grass or garbage.

If you see a wildfire, immediately call the local fire brigade!

If you want to support the Greenpeace Russia firefighting team, make a donation here.

Grigory Kuksin is the Head of the Wildfire Unit at Greenpeace Russia