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Climate change is behind forest fires in Yakutia, Siberia, official says

Firefighters worked on the wildfire in the Republic of Sakha, or Yakutia, Thursday. Photo courtesy of Russian Emergencies Ministry/EPA-EFE
Firefighters worked on the wildfire in the Republic of Sakha, or Yakutia, Thursday. Photo courtesy of Russian Emergencies Ministry/EPA-EFE

July 20 (UPI) -- Climate change has caused the ongoing forest fires in the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, in northeastern Siberia, the republic's chief told Yakutia 24 television Tuesday.

"Of course, there is only one reason -- global climate changes, they are taking place, we see that it is getting hotter every year in Yakutia," Aisen Nikolaev, head of Yakutia, said. "We are now living in the hottest, driest summer that has been in the history of meteorological observation in Yakutia since the end of the 19th century."

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Siberia, which is Russia's largest and coldest region, has been under a state of emergency for nearly a month because of rapidly spreading wildfires amid the heat wave.

Last month, in particular, was recorded as the second-hottest June in Russia's history, the country's weather chief, Roman Vilfand, told reporters Tuesday.

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Officials have also called this summer's weather in Yakutia the driest in the past 150 years, and the dry weather after five years of hot summers has created a tinderbox in surrounding forests, according to villagers, The Guardian reported.

Forest fires have burned through 3.7 million acres of land in northeast Siberia, releasing choking smog in the Yakutia region, according to The Guardian. And villagers have tried to squelch the fires for a month as they burn closer to Sakha's Oymyakonsky district, while sending children away from the choking smog.

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"For a month already you can't see anything through the smoke," Varvara, age 63, from Teryut, a village in the Oymyakonsky district, said in The Guardian report. "We have already sent the small children away. And the fires are very close, just 2 km [1.2] miles from our village."

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"Emergency workers and villagers are also fighting the fires but they can't put them out, they can't stop them," Varvara told The Guardian on a phone call. "Everything is on fire."

Smog over more than 50 settlements has at times halted Yakutia's main airport operations and river traffic, The Guardian added.

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