A firefighter trying to extinguish wildfire in the republic of Yakutia, Russia, in August 2021.
© Emercom Of Russia
A firefighter trying to extinguish wildfire in the republic of Yakutia, Russia, in August 2021.
Analysis shows over 18.16m hectares were destroyed in 2021, an absolute record since satellite monitoring began

Russia has endured its worst forest fire season in the country's modern history, according to recent data from the Russian Forestry Agency analysed by Greenpeace.

Fires have destroyed more than 18.16m hectares of Russian forest in 2021, setting an absolute record since the country began monitoring forest fires using satellites in 2001. The previous record was set in 2012, when fires covered 18.11m hectares of forest.

The record was surpassed late last week after a long fire season that has also produced unprecedented levels of global wildfire emissions and upturned daily life for hundreds of thousands of people living in Siberia and elsewhere in central Russia.

"For the past several years, when the area of the fires has surpassed 15m hectares, it has become, in all likelihood, the new normal in the conditions of the new climate reality," Greenpeace Russia wrote.

Those fires have primarily affected communities in Siberia, where dry, hot summers have turned the vast taiga forests into a tinderbox. In Yakutia, a northern Siberian region that has been particularly hard-hit, smog covered the capital city, Yakutsk, for weeks, and villagers have had to come together in last-ditch efforts to save their homes.

"Emergency workers have come and villagers are also fighting the fires but they can't put them out, they can't stop them," Varvara, a 63-year-old from the remote village of Teryut, said by telephone in July. "Everything is on fire."

The statistics do not record other types of fires taking place outside Russia's forests. "If we counted all the fires - grass, reed, tundra, where there is no forest fund - then we would see an even higher number," wrote Grigory Kuksin, the head of Greenpeace Russia's firefighting project. The total area could be as high as 30m hectares, he said, an area the size of Italy or Poland.

(Read more here - if interested in associated carbon dioxide releases.)