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‘Ecological disaster’: Russia battles Siberia wildfires

The Russian military has joined efforts to battle unprecedented wildfires engulfing vast tracts of Siberia. Not only is the acrid smoke from the fires posing a health hazard for local residents, but environmental groups have warned the blazes could accelerate global warming.

The fires cover more than 30,000 square kilometers, an area the size of Belgium, and are concentrated mainly in the vast regions of Yakutia in the north and Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk in the east.

Though wildfires are common in Siberia in the summer months, this year’s blazes have reached an unprecedented size, triggered by unusually warm temperatures and spread by strong winds.

While the fires themselves release vast quantities of CO2 into the air, the dark soot and ash they produce can cover ice and snow and stop them reflecting heat, increasing the risk the permafrost layer could thaw and release methane – a greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere.

"The forest fires…have long stopped being a local problem," the Russian branch of Greenpeace said in a statement. "It has transformed into an ecological disaster.”

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