Russia battles wildfires amid record warm weather

This image taken from video provided by Russian Emergency Ministry, shows a Russian Emergency Ministry multipurpose amphibious aircraft releasing water to extinguish the fire in the Trans-Baikal National Park in Buryatia, southern Siberia, Russia, Thursday, July 9, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 11 July 2020

Russia battles wildfires amid record warm weather

  • Russia’s Aerial Forest Protection Service said it was trying to suppress 136 fires over 43,000 hectares as of Saturday
  • The region announced a state of emergency on July 2 due to the wildfires

MOSCOW: Wildfires raging in Siberia in record summer temperatures have decreased considerably over the past week, Russia’s forest service said Saturday, as it battles blazes by cloud seeding and explosives.
Freakishly warm weather across large swathes of Siberia since January, combined with low soil moisture, have contributed to a resurgence of wildfires that devastated the region last summer, the European Union’s climate monitoring network said this week.
Both the number and intensity of fires in Siberia and parts of Alaska have increased since mid-June, resulting in the highest carbon emissions for the month — 59 million tons of CO2 — since records began in 2003, it said.
Russia’s Aerial Forest Protection Service said it was trying to suppress 136 fires over 43,000 hectares (430 square kilometers) as of Saturday.
Firefighters are using explosives to contain the fires and using cloud seeding with silver iodide to encourage rain, it said.
However most of the fires have been deemed too remote and expensive to handle, with over 333,000 hectares currently ablaze in areas where all firefighting efforts have stopped, it said.
This is considerably smaller than a week ago, when the service reported fires over a total of two million hectares.
From mid-June, regions in Russia’s far north, including beyond the Arctic circle, have registered unprecedented heat records.
Russia’s weather service expert Roman Vilfand had said anti-cyclones — which create abnormally clear skies with no clouds or rain — had increased in the northern hemisphere.
In the Arctic, where the sun doesn’t set in the summer, this means that sunlight is heating the Earth’s surface around the clock, increasing risk of fires, he said.
Fresh satellite images showed Saturday that the largest fires are still in Russia’s vast Yakutia region, which is sparsely populated and borders the Arctic Ocean.
The region announced a state of emergency on July 2 due to the wildfires, which the governor of Yakutia said were caused by “dry thunderstorms.”
Greenpeace Russia’s forest program, which analyzes satellite data, said Saturday that a total of 9.26 million hectares — greater than the size of Portugal — have been impacted by wildfires since the beginning of 2020.
The organization blames Russia’s wildfire crisis on lack of funding of the forest service which now cannot ensure adequate fire prevention.


Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

Afghan security personnel in front of a prison gate after an attack by Daesh that had freed hundreds in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, on Monday. (AP)
Updated 14 min 50 sec ago

Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

  • The attack, reportedly by Daesh, took place hours before end of cease-fire

KABUL: Militants have stormed a prison in eastern Afghanistan and released hundreds of prisoners, officials said.

The attack on the main prison in Jalalabad, in Nangarhar province, where several hundred Daesh fighters have been detained, began on Sunday afternoon with a car bomb detonated at the entrance to the jail.
The attack came hours before the end of a three-day ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban, who immediately denied any involvement in the assault. Several Western media outlets reported that the Daesh had claimed responsibility.
The Nangarhar governor’s spokesman, Attaullah Khogyani, told Arab News that there was still gunfire on Monday morning, and that more than 20 civilians and personnel and three attackers have died in the fighting.
Two local security sources speaking on condition of anonymity said that nearly half of the prison’s 1,500 inmates managed to flee.
They said 20 assailants made their way into the prison and a number of explosions were heard from inside the jail.
Residents said one group of attackers was firing on the jail from a nearby building and they reported heavy and sustained exchanges of small fire.
According to Khogyani, most of the escapees have been caught. He gave no further details about the attack.
The assault comes amid official claims that Daesh leaders have been arrested or killed in recent months, notably in Nangarhar, which used to be the group’s bastion.
“This is a major embarrassment for the government, which every now and then claims to have wiped out or paralyzed the Daesh. The government needs to answer why such a high security lapse has happened,” analyst Shafiq Haqpal said.
The Eid Al-Adha ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government forces was a part of efforts to begin long-awaited peace talks following a US-Taliban agreement signed in Qatar in late February.
In accordance with the deal, the Taliban is releasing 1,000 Afghan troops in exchange for 5,000 militants held by President Ashraf Ghani’s government.
The process is near completion, but Kabul is refusing to free 400 remaining Taliban inmates, saying they have been behind “heinous crimes.”
After Eid prayers on Sunday, Ghani announced he would summon a traditional grand assembly, Loya Jirga, to help him decide whether the rest of Taliban prisoners should be freed.
The assembly is scheduled to start on Aug. 7. Loya Jirga has deep roots in Afghan history and tradition and is usually summoned during times of crisis or emergency.
The Taliban have voiced their opposition to the convocation of the jirga. Their Qatar-based spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told TOLO News that Kabul’s decision would only complicate the peace process.
Afghan politicians are divided on the jirga announcement. Hamidullah Tokhi, a member of parliament from southern Zabul province, said: “The nation and parliament have deep doubts about Ghani’s goal for summoning the jirga to decide over the fate of 400 Taliban.
“All of the 4,500 Taliban already freed were involved in some sort of bloody attacks. Why did the government not ask for the jirga on the overall release of the Taliban?”
“Summoning the jirga now is a treason to this country and a clear blocking of the peace process,” he said.
Torek Farhadi, who served in the previous government as an adviser, said Ghani hopes that the victory of Democrats in the upcoming US elections, would sideline Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan who struck the Qatar deal with the Taliban, allowing Kabul to be in charge of the peace process.
“We should have one Loya Jirga to discuss substantive matters on peace with the Taliban and the type of future regime,” Farhadi said, adding that the Taliban, too, should participate in the assembly. “This meeting would be like a half-baked national dialogue (if it is) conducted by only one side of the conflict.”