Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

EYE ON AFRICA

Ahmed Kathrada's funeral highlights divisions within the ruling ANC party

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

It's not EU, it's me

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Markets muted as UK begins Brexit proceedings

Read more

THE DEBATE

'Thank you and goodbye': Clock starts on Brexit negotiations (part 1)

Read more

THE DEBATE

'Thank you and goodbye': Clock starts on Brexit negotiations (part 2)

Read more

ENCORE!

Film show: 'Ghost in the Shell', 'The Confession' and Jean Rouch centenary

Read more

FOCUS

Italy: Anti-establishment mayor of Rome faces grim reality of power

Read more

MIDDLE EAST MATTERS

Refugees of rap: Using music to speak out about the Syrian war

Read more

THE POLITICAL BRIEF

Rise of populism: Could far-right leader Le Pen be France's next president?

Read more

REPORTERS

An in-depth report by our senior reporters and team of correspondents from around the world. Every Saturday at 9.10 pm Paris time. And you can watch it online as early as Friday.

Latest update : 2010-08-27

Fire and rage in Russia

At least 54 people dead, thousands more homeless, and vast swathes of countryside on fire: Russia’s heatwave left the country suffocating. France 24’s Chris Moore and Sylvain Rousseau travelled to the Moscow region to meet overwhelmed fire crews and stricken villagers – and discovered there was much more than record temperatures behind the blazes.

Towering flames and high-tech fire-fighting equipment dominate the Russian media. But away from the headlines, the daily task of dousing the flames sees local fire brigades engaged in an uphill struggle in the forests and peat bogs. Near the city of Shatura, south-east of Moscow, we meet Alexandr and Sergei. They haven’t had a day off in six weeks. With a team of just 20 firemen, dressed in T-shirts and trainers, they try to keep the flames away from people’s homes. Each small victory is met with a new challenge - with one patch of land finally under control, another invariably erupts into flames.

Nobody’s denying the wildfires have been sparked by soaring temperatures, but the scale of the crisis has prompted many to look harder at why so much of Russia is burning.

Environmentalists have been warning for years about the danger posed by the peat bogs around Moscow. Drained 140 years ago for agriculture, they were developed by the Soviets for fuel. The value of peat plummeted with the discovery of gas in Siberia and the bogs were largely left by the wayside, becoming a giant fire hazard encircling the Russian capital. As specialist Alexandr Tuvolov explained to us, once alight they can burn for months, even when soaked in water or covered in snow. In this long, hot summer, more of them are smouldering than ever.

As Moscow chokes on the smog from the burning countryside, the debate turns political. At the centre of attention are the government’s 2007 forestry reforms. Critics say the privatisation of much of Russia’s great outdoors left the woodlands and peat bogs at the mercy of negligent private contractors hired by corrupt local authorities. But the government says the shake-up replaced a heavily centralised Soviet system with one where the regions gained much-needed control of the forests.

One thing is for certain: 70,000 forest wardens were left out of work by the changes. In the village of Antonovo, just south of Moscow, we meet Maxim. For six years, he and his colleagues were the first line of defence against forest fires. He shows us the woods he used to protect. They’ve burned to a crisp. Back in 2007, when he still worked here, the wardens managed to put a similar blaze out. “They should have kept the old system,” he tells us.

In Kriusha, in the hard-hit Ryazan region, Olga lost everything in 15 minutes. She tells us how the flames came on July 29th, reducing her family home to ashes. Most of the buildings here were razed to the ground. But incredibly, with the outskirts of the village still smouldering, reconstruction crews have already moved in. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has promised a new house for every Russian who lost their home in the fires by October 25th. It’s a race against time to get roofs back over people’s heads before the harsh winter sets in.

With the causes behind the wildfires now a matter of national debate, and with public anger mounting, Putin is keen to be seen as a man of action.

By Sylvain ROUSSEAU , Christopher MOORE

COMMENT(S)

Archives

2017-03-23 Europe

Video: Crimean dissidents silenced by Moscow

Three years after the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, Russia has deployed all the tools at its disposal, in the police and the justice system, to silence...

Read more

2017-03-16 Americas

Canada’s indigenous people determined to improve their lives

Although Canada regularly tops international rankings for its quality of life, the daily existence of the country’s indigenous people, also known as "First Nations", has more in...

Read more

2017-03-09 Middle East

Iraq's lost children: Victims of post-traumatic stress

In Iraq, thousands of civilians are fleeing the battle of Mosul against the Islamic State group jihadists. Many of the displaced have reached IDP camps in the north of the...

Read more

2017-03-03 Africa

Libya: Six years on, what remains of the revolution in key city of Zintan?

Six years have passed since the outbreak of the revolution that led to the ouster and killing of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. With the country divided between rival clans,...

Read more

2014-03-14 Bashar al-Assad

Syria’s chemical attacks: the inside story

A chemical weapons attack targeted the suburbs of Damascus in August 2013. The West threatened air strikes in response, and Syria agreed to destroy its chemical arms stockpile....

Read more