‘Warning Sign of Major Proportions’: Arctic Fires Grow by 500% in a Week as Heat Roasts Siberia

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(TMU) – The Russian government is scrambling to control forest fires in Siberia that have reportedly grown fivefold over the past week alone.

On Saturday, Russia’s forest fire aerial forest protection agency Avialesookhrana reported that some 2.85 million acres (1.15 million hectares) were actively burning in remote areas of Siberia inaccessible by firefighters, reports ABC.

The raging fires and accompanying historic heat wave in the Siberian region are a grim reminder that world climate conditions continue to rise in unpredictable and devastating ways.

Satellite images from space captured by the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme show that the wildfires have encroached on territory further north within the Arctic Circle than ever before, raising alarm among scientists.

In the pictures, the blaze can be seen ravaging the diamond-rich Yakutia region, also called the Sakha Republic, where 2.295 million acres or 929,000 hectares are burning.

“While fires are common at this time of year, record temperatures and strong winds are making the situation particularly worrying,” the European program added.

Last week, the Russian Arctic town of Verkhoyansk lying within the Sakha Republic reached a shocking temperature of 100.4°F (38°C), the hottest temperature ever recorded north of the Arctic circle. The town is known as being the coldest in the world, with last weekend’s record exceeding the normal temperature by 32 degrees.

“The Arctic is figuratively and literally on fire,” climate scientist and University of Michigan environmental school dean Jonathan Overpeck told ABC. “It’s warming much faster than we thought it would in response to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and this warming is leading to a rapid meltdown and increase in wildfires.”

“The record warming in Siberia is a warning sign of major proportions,” he added, noting that such prolonged warmth in the famously frigid region has been unseen for thousands of years.

“It is another sign that the Arctic amplifies global warming even more than we thought,” Overpeck said.

The inferno is located less than eight miles north of the devastating fires that raged last year.

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed shock over the changing conditions and has ordered authorities to establish a new program to monitor the climate and consequences of changing climatic conditions.

Authorities fear that as temperatures increase in the Arctic region, prolonged wildfires could become the norm – and could grow more fearsome with each passing year.

The fires also pose the danger of thawing frozen ground, or permafrost, in the region. The melting of Siberian permafrost would cause great structural damage to buildings in the region and destroy fuel storage and pipeline facilities, leading to spreading pollution in the region.

The nightmare scenario Arctic energy facilities bursting open and contaminating sensitive ecological zones occurred last month after thawing permafrost caused a facility belonging to Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel spilled 21,000 tons of diesel fuel into an Arctic river, causing the Russian president to declare a state of emergency.

Every hot Arctic summer would also lead to further thawing, warping roads, damaging critical infrastructure, eroding riverbanks, and flooding pastures.

“We should organize a total monitoring of both industrial and housing buildings on the permafrost,” said Russian Academy of Sciences President Alexander Sergeyev, according to MailOnline. “If the permafrost degrades, all those buildings will begin to slide. This task is of the highest importance.”

Residents and local authorities are also frightened by the proliferation of mosquito swarms amid the Saudi-like weather, reports New York Times.

The thawing permafrost would also have a global impact as it unleashes greenhouse gases from decomposed organic materials into the air that had previously been frozen since time immemorial. Scientists have warned that as much as 240 billion tons of carbon could be released by 2100, adding dangerous momentum to the ongoing process of climate change.

“Nature is taking its revenge on us, probably,” Russkoye Ustye village leader Sergei Portnyagin told the Times. “We’ve been too bloody in how we’ve treated it.”