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Putin Calls Siberian Wildfires 'Unprecedented,' Calls For Stronger Response

Volunteers pause while working at the scene of a forest fire west of Yakutsk on August 7.
Volunteers pause while working at the scene of a forest fire west of Yakutsk on August 7.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the wildfires ravaging parts of northern Siberia "absolutely unprecedented" and called for a better response by firefighters.

Putin's comments, in an August 14 video call with government officials, came as the total area burnt reached nearly 1.3 million hectares in Yakutia alone.

Known for frigid winters and hot Arctic summers, the Siberian region has suffered unusually devastating fires this year, following months of dry weather and record heat.

Yakutsk, the provincial capital, and other major population centers have been blanketed in choking smoke.

Meanwhile, parts of southern Siberia have also seen devastating flooding in recent months.

"We see, we understand that the scale of natural disasters is absolutely unprecedented," Putin said in the video conference.

Emergency Situations Minister Yevgeny Zinichev said more than 5,000 personnel, 19 aircraft, and hundreds of trucks have been deployed to the region. But he said thick smoke has also grounded firefighting planes.

In all, a total of 252 active fires were burning across the country, over more than 4.2 million hectares, according to the Natural Resources Ministry, or roughly an area the size of Switzerland.

Environmental experts say a 2007 decision by the government to disband a federal aviation network tasked to spot and combat fires has hampered firefighting efforts.

Weather officials and environmentalists have linked the growing intensity of annual Siberian fires to climate change.

With reporting by AP and dpa
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