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Interview: Russian Forest Ranger Discusses Challenges Of Firefighting

Aleksandr Rovnov: "Now the government screams at us that we should do everything -- but there is no one to do anything."

Aleksandr Rovnov: "Now the government screams at us that we should do everything -- but there is no one to do anything."

As they work to help contain the wildfires plaguing Russia, the country's forestry workers are short of manpower and equipment. RFE/RL's Russian Service correspondent Anastasia Kirilenko spoke to Aleksandr Rovnov, a forest ranger in Nizhny Novgorod's Vyksunsky district, about the challenges he and his colleagues face as they battle the blazes.

RFE/RL: Can you talk about how the fires started in your area, Vyksunsky?

Aleksandr Rovnov:
The dry, bizarrely hot weather meant that the fires caught immediately. It's been a long time since there have been any clearing fires. A lot of underbrush and dead trees had collected.

But the outbreak of fires was caused by negligence. One fire spread to our town from the side, from the neighboring agricultural firm Metalurg. They gave us that gift.

RFE/RL: How does one fight against negligence?

I don't think you can change people's mentality. I don't think it's just a Russian way of thinking.

The taiga in Russia has been burning for a million years, and it will burn for a million more. In Europe and America they even collect fodder -- plus their forests are broken up into sections, there are entrances, there are people and materials for putting out fires, and even so, nothing helps. Greece has fires every year, resorts burn. Sometimes America too is in flames.

I don't know, do we need to start these small brush fires? The earth needs phosphorous. Nature takes care of itself.

Lack Of Resources

RFE/RL: How many forest rangers are on your team? Do you have enough men?

No, we do not have enough. It's me, the head, and four other rangers. That's it. And the whole area is 34,000 hectares.

RFE/RL: Are there fewer rangers than before?

Of course there's less. Three times less. Earlier we were a federal organization. Now we are called a regional enterprise of the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, Vyksunsky forest service.

The resources [we get] have decreased by a lot. Now we can only employ a small number of rangers. I don't know who or how controls [the funds]. Now the government screams at us that we should do everything -- but there is no one to do anything.

RFE/RL: And when you say that "earlier" things were different -- when approximately do you mean?

Two years ago 19 to 20 rangers were working here.

RFE/RL: Do you have problems with equipment?

We don't have enough equipment. The tractors and fire engine that we had are worn out. If we were better funded, then there would be more rangers. That's the problem, really.

RFE/RL: The clearing of brush for safety is done beforehand or only once fires have begun?

It's done beforehand. But what kind [of equipment] do you think we have? There are very few fire extinguishers [in our forest] that can spray 50-100 meters. We only have a primitive one -- for small brush fires. And equipment was brought in for clearing brush.

But from experience I can say that once a main fire starts, nothing is going to stop it.

RFE/RL: Right now, do you have enough men to watch the forest from control towers?

I have enough, but others don't. You can find people [who want the job]. If the job came with better pay, then you'd find someone.

RFE/RL: What lessons have you learned for the future?

People's mentality has got to change. People need to know what they are doing when they are on vacation. They need to be careful where they throw their matches and cigarettes.