Has the zombie apocalypse of forest fires begun?

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

We have all seen the dramatic, terrifying images of wildfires tearing at devastating speed through forested areas all over the world, from the Amazon to California and throughout Northern Africa and Europe. But what we don’t very often see – likely because it’s much more difficult to capture with a camera – are the equally devastating peat fires which burn underground, often for months at a time.

This winter in Russia, we have seen these peat fires in increasing numbers. They are often called zombie fires because of their cunning and ability to continue to burn below the ground surface, even under a layer of snow. In the 2021 forest fire season in Russia, more than 18.8 million hectares of fires burned – a record at the time according to the state satellite monitoring system. It is also a record in the number of fires above the Arctic Circle. The smoke reached the North Pole. And now once again, despite the arrival of the winter snow and frost, the peat fires continue.

In the Urals region of Northern Russia, numerous hotbeds of smouldering peat have been discovered by experts at Greenpeace Russia, working together with the Yekaterinburg Rapid Response Volunteers group.

Throughout the autumn, strong smoke was detected in Yekaterinburg, one of the largest Russian cities, due to the burning peat in bogs in the vicinity of the city. Now, the joint inspection has confirmed fears that the peat fires had not been completely extinguished, many fires continued under the snow and may not be extinguished until next Spring.

“The situation is difficult, but not hopeless,” says Grigory Kuksin, head of the fire department at Greenpeace Russia. “If we monitor the state of all hotbeds and prepare for the winter – lay roads to these hotbeds, create conditions for the accumulation of water – then these fires can still be extinguished in early spring.”

If these fires survive the snowy Russian winter, and smouldering peat ignites grass and forest in spring, then the 2022 fire season may become even harder than this year. If the phenomenon of wintering ‘zombie fires’ becomes widespread, then firefighters may be powerless to stop them.

Source: Greenpeace