As images come in of wildfires burning out of control in Siberia, a new study suggests that such fires are changing the ecology of the region permanently.
Dramatic pictures from The Siberian Times, reportedly taken on May 11, show wildfires bearing down on villages in Russia's Buryatia region.
As fires raged in several southern regions, Federal Forestry Agency head Ivan Valentik said criminal cases would be brought against people who deliberately light fires.
Another view of the blaze. The Russian official claimed "99 percent of all fires in the Amur region, the Trans-Baikal region, and Buryatia are caused by people who set fire to grass."
A wildfire crawling through scrubland in the Amur region of Siberia on May 8, 2016. Grass-burning by farmers as part of their springtime planting process is now outlawed in parts of Siberia, but the reasons behind the current blazes may be larger than any legislation can deal with.
A 2015 file photo of a blaze near Lake Baikal. 2015 was the second-worst year on record for Russian wildfires and this year's blazes have begun unusually early.
A helicopter amid one of the 2015 blazes around Lake Baikal. According to a recent article in The New York Times, global warming has led to an earlier melting of snow and ice in northern regions of the world, meaning trees dry faster in the warm weeks of spring. Such changes have been cited in still-smoldering fires in Canada, as well as Siberia's current blazes.
A burned-out car after the current blazes tore through a village in Buryatia. As of May 11, there were 116 fires burning across Siberia and Russia's far east. No fatalities have yet been reported.
A 2002 file photo of a Siberian wildfire. According to a recent scientific study, the forests of Siberia are being changed fundamentally by regular fires.
Following the destruction of forested areas, the evergreen conifers of Siberia are being replaced by more adaptable deciduous trees.
The study cites "intensified fire regimes" in Siberia for the creeping loss of conifers and says the evergreen trees' failure to reestablish themselves after wildfires is predicted to become more severe.
A village leveled by wildfires in the Khakassia region of Siberia, April 13, 2015. Scientists who contributed to the study say the loss of conifers leads to a drying of the landscape, further increasing the risk of fire.
According to Russia's official TASS news agency, churches in regions affected by the current blazes are organizing "special services to pray for heavy rains." The practice is not new; this image of a similar service was taken during wildfires in Siberia in 2010.