Aisen Nikolayev, head of the Siberian region Yakutia, declared last Friday a non-working day following heavy smoke from raging forest fires. Nikolayev urged residents to stay at home due to the health risks associated with the smoke. 

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Yakutia, the largest and coldest region in Russia, has dealt with forest fires on an “unprecedented scale” this year. Residents of Yakutsk, the regional capital, and several other districts were urged to stay at home in a bid to protect them breathing in the heavy smoke.

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Last Thursday, Nikolayev announced that the health risk associated with the smoke necessitated a day off. In a statement via the RIA Novosti news agency, Nikolayev said, “Smoke from the fires has an extremely negative effect on people’s well-being. In order to minimize these consequences today, I signed a decree declaring tomorrow a non-working day for 11 municipalities.” This announcement came with a recommendation that residents spend the day at home.

The smoke also caused several flight delays on Thursday at Yakutsk airport due to poor visibility. As the fires worsened, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered firefighting reinforcement. The head of the emergencies ministry also visited Yakutia to oversee firefighting operations.

In the vast Siberian region, wildfires have, so far, burned an area of more than 22.7 acres, an area the size of Portugal. NASA has announced that, for the first time in history, satellite images show smoke from the wildfires traveling all the way to the North Pole.

Although Russia has not asked for international help in fighting the fire, local firefighters have lamented their lack of equipment and resources to deal with such a massive fire. Additionally, as The Guardian noted in an article about the fires, a 2015 law “allows regions to ignore blazes if the cost of fighting fires outweighs the expected damage.” Critics worry that this “provides cover for authorities to avoid fighting wildfires.”

Via The Guardian

Lead image via Pixabay