From the Mediterranean to North America, vast portions of the Northern Hemisphere are grappling with extraordinarily fierce wildfires this summer. However, all of these fires combined are still no rival to the blazes currently raging in Siberia.
A total of 13.4 million hectares (33.1 million acres) of forest has burned down in Russia between January 2021 and August 2, according to Greenpeace Russia. The majority of the fires are in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Russia’s largest and coldest region found in the northeast of the country.
Alexey Yaroshenko, head of the forestry department of Greenpeace Russia, told the Moscow Times this week that the largest of the fires currently exceeded 1.5 million hectares in size and they expect it to become the largest in recorded history. “This fire has to grow by about 400,000 hectares to become the biggest in documented history," he said.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Yaroshenko also remarked that the fires in Siberia are larger than ongoing fires in Greece, Turkey, Italy, the US, and Canada combined.
Acrid smoke from the forest fires in Siberia has also traveled more than 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) from Yakutia to reach the North Pole for the first time in recorded history, according to NASA. NASA’s space monitoring data showed a thick blanket of smoke stretching about 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) from east to west and 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) from south to north. Smoke was even reported in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, western Greenland, and Nunavut in northernmost Canada.
Despite its frosty image, Siberia is no stranger to wildfires. Both 2020 and 2019 saw intense wildfire seasons in the area, but this year has been particularly violent. The 21st century has only seen two years that beat the current scale of the wildfires: 2012, when 16 million hectares (39.5 million acres)of forest burned, and 2003, when 14.5 million hectares (35.8 million acres) burned.
To prevent this kind of catastrophe from unfolding in the future, Greenpeace Russia has called on the Russian Government to list more forested areas as protected and eliminate fire practices from agriculture and forestry as much as possible.
The cause of the wildfire can ultimately be traced back to humans. The current wildfires come off the back of record-breaking heatwaves and severe drought, which have likely been made more intense due to climate change. Furthermore, it’s believed that many of the fires were directly lit by humans as part of logging operations.
Like a vicious cycle, these fires will also contribute further to climate change. European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service reports that the wildfires in Siberia have already pumped out around 505 megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which stands as a record amount. For context, that's significantly more than the annual carbon emissions of the UK in 2020.