Several forest and bush fires raging in Russian areas close to Finland
Forest and brush fires in Russia are believed to have contributed in large measure to the current poor air quality in Finland. On Thursday, the explanation was easy to believe in St. Petersburg, where the air was grey and thick with distinctive odours from the smoke-effected environment.
Outside the city, small fires or traces of them could be seen in many places. People were burning piles of leaves and hay in their yards, and trash containers were smouldering.
In the town of Bugry, north of St. Petersburg, a fire had spread to some garages built inside a residential area. The garages were ablaze, and the column of smoke could be seen as far away as in St. Petersburg.
Within an hour, a dozen fire-fighting vehicles turned up to extinguish the fire, but the actions of the fire-fighters looked somewhat paralysed. The vehicles had difficulties getting water from the local water system, and they had to pump it from a nearby pond. Some of the hoses leaked, and one fire-fighting vehicle broke down in the middle of the road, preventing others from getting close to the fire.
A couple of hundred residents were watching the blaze. Some of them cried or were furious, while others enjoyed the scene with a bottle of beer in hand. The most curious spectators were standing only some 20 metres away from the flames.
"Nobody knows what these garages are housing. People might keep petrol cans or gas bottles in there, and hence there is an imminent danger of explosion", noted fire-fighter Nikolai, whose fire station has recently received a couple of dozen alarms a day.
Aleksandr Buhtoyarov, representing the rescue and fire-fighting services of the Leningrad Region, described the situation as critical.
"The number of fire alarms has grown tenfold over the past four weeks, and the fires spreading amid residential areas have caused ten deaths already", he noted.
In Buhtoyarov's view, most of the fires are due to negligence. People burn garbage or clear their land by slash and burn techniques, even though it is forbidden.
The main waste disposal site in St. Petersburg is smouldering constantly, says Jaakko Henttonen, the Environmental Specialist at the Finnish Consulate General in St. Petersburg.
"In order to to develop the maintenance of the waste disposal site, we are to start cooperation with local authorities within the current year", Henttonen reports.
Nikolai Sorokin, the Deputy Chairman of St. Petersburg's Committee for Nature Use, Environmental Protection and Ecological Safety, reports that no elevated particle emissions have been measured in the city. On the other hand, the maximum permissible amount of airborne dust in city air is three times what is considered acceptable in Finland.
The fires in Russia can be seen in elevated concentrations of fine particles in Southern and South-Eastern Finland.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Helsinki´s air quality remains poor for nine straight days (4.5.2006)
Leningrad Region: The Leningrad Region and Finland