President Vladimir Putin called in the army last week to help firefighters battle fires raging in remote Siberian forestland that had spread to an area larger than Belgium and blanketed hundreds of villages and towns in smoke.
The Emergencies Ministry said on Monday that the fires, which have prompted states of emergency to be declared in some regions, had been reduced by a quarter, while the Federal Forestry Agency put the affected area at 2.5 million hectares.
Greenpeace, however, said the fires had not diminished in size and that they covered 4.3 million hectares and were releasing nearly as much carbon dioxide into the air as emitted by 36 million cars in a year.
The General Prosecutor said it had identified cases in which forest fires in the Irkutsk region of Siberia had been deliberately started in order to conceal illegal wood felling, RIA news agency reported.
“We have discovered such cases in Irkutsk region in which it seems fires were covering up illegal logging,” General Prosecutor’s spokesman Alexander Kurennoy was quoted as saying.
In a statement, Greenpeace said the wildfires, though they happen in the region every year, were “unprecedented” this year because of their size and strength.