By Anna Chernova, CNN, and Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered regional officials on Tuesday to do more to tackle fires raging in Siberia, after at least eight people were killed over the weekend and hundreds of buildings burned.
Putin warned that there should be no repeat of last year’s fires, which were the biggest on record for Russia.
“I would like to draw special attention to the fact that we cannot allow for the situation of last year to repeat, when forest fires became the longest and most intense over the past few years,” he said. “We need to fight fires more efficiently, systematically, consistently, and improve the quality and level of all types of prevention.”
In an online meeting shown on state TV, Putin said fires were causing significant material damage and posing a threat to life, the environment and the economy.
This year so far, there have been 4,000 forest fires on an area of 270,000 hectares, Acting Emergencies Minister Alexander Chupryan told Putin. That’s an area around the same size as Luxembourg.
The 2021 fire season was Russia’s largest ever, with 18.8 million hectares of forest destroyed by blazes, according to Greenpeace Russia. The fires spread rapidly as Siberia experienced soaring temperatures, which scientists have linked to human-caused climate change.
Eight people were killed on Saturday as fires ripped through hundreds of buildings in several Siberian villages, with high winds hampering efforts to extinguish the blazes. Putin said that 700 homes had been damaged in the fires and were in need of repair.
“[Forests are] the ecological shield of our country and the entire planet. They play a key role in absorbing global greenhouse gas emissions, which means large-scale fires undermine our efforts to save the climate. This is a fundamental issue for the whole world, for our country,” Putin said.
Russia is the world’s fourth biggest polluter and a major exporter of fossil fuels, the burning of which is primary cause of climate change. Russia accounts for more carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel exports than any other country in the world, according to an analysis by the Australia Institute.
Many traders have been shunning Russian oil since the country’s invasion of Ukraine. The US has banned Russian oil, liquefied natural gas and coal imports, while the European Union has proposed a similar ban by the year end.
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CNN’s Angela Dewan contributed to this report.