6 august 2012

Dmitry Medvedev holds a meeting with Tomsk Region Governor Sergei Zhvachkin

The meeting focused on the wildfires in the region.

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Zhvachkin, I would like to say that I have come to see you specifically because of the recent emergency involving wildfires and smoke in the Tomsk Region. But now the weather is good, it's as if nothing had happened. But unfortunately, that's not the case, because the memories and emotions of the dangers of poisoning and even death in the smoke-filled woods are still fresh in people's minds. We have just met with the firefighters who bravely fought the fires and rescued people. It is good that such rescue units are well maintained. I can see the fire unit is well-equipped and the firefighters are on 24-hour call.

Now the situation looks better. Nevertheless, I invited some of your colleagues, the governors of other areas and regions that are subject to fire risk. We expect that this month is going to be tough so it’s time to discuss the issue again and see what has been done, especially following the instructions I issued at our recent video conference. The Emergency Situations Minister visited you after that meeting. He is here now as well. I suggest we start with the latest reports from the Tomsk Region and then go on to discuss the situation in general so that we can develop an action plan. As I promised, once the summer fire and drought prevention campaign is over we will hold the final Government debriefing. So how is it going?

Sergei Zhvachkin: The situation is definitely improving. As you rightly pointed out, you only have to go outside to see that. We hope the worst is over but the challenge still remains. Currently in the Tomsk Region, there are 27 wildfires burning across an area of 4,800 hectares. I would like to remind you that when we reported on the crisis and asked for help a week ago, as much as 11,000 hectares were covered by 36 or 37 wildfires. So we can definitely see an improvement. Unfortunately, rain only fell in the south of the region; the north remains dry. The rains passed along a diagonal line (shows on the map); now the rain front is moving towards the Krasnoyarsk Territory. There were only a few scattered showers so the fires in the taiga in the north of the region continue to rage.

Dmitry Medvedev: Are those the epicentres of the fires?

Sergei Zhvachkin: Yes. The problem is the lack of roads and rivers in the area. The taiga is burning and it consists mostly of Siberian pines. Even if we pour water from Ilyushin Il-76's, that breaks the tops of the trees. We decided to access the woods from clearances. The fires in the taiga cover a huge area and you can imagine what it’s like to fight them. The fact is Siberian wildfires are different from those in the central region.

I am very grateful to all the people who are lending a hand. We have involved paratroopers from across Russia. Some of them have been fighting the fires for 50 to 60 days now, which is more than they should be allowed to. The ones you met today are real heroes who deserve credit for decreasing the areas affected by fire.

Dmitry Medvedev: You and your colleagues suggested increasing the staff of airborne fire units and other emergency units and allocating additional funding for staffing. I have issued the relevant instructions because, they really are working under very difficult conditions and providing tangible help. Unfortunately, they are also risking their lives. We know there have been casualties in some areas.

Sergei Zhvachkin: Thank you, Mr Medvedev. This is very important. In 2010, the government issued a series of resolutions on staffing. Many issues have been resolved as a result of those resolutions. But I believe it is time to take the next step and consider increasing the allowance for the airborne units.

We also have a cooperation problem with forest keepers. As far as the Tomsk Region is concerned, previously one forest keeper would tend some 10,000 hectares. Now each tends around 56 hectares. Obviously, due to a lack of roads, they are the first to discover the epicentres. And let's not hide the fact that previously they were the first people who started putting out the fires. That system is now broken due to poor forest management. Earlier, we needed so many machines. Now one unit has replaced 20 and can deal with timber cutting and felling.

Dmitry Medvedev: The situation has indeed changed. We have new opportunities and new difficulties. Aside from improving the forest keeping service (the head of the service is here, by the way), it is important to organise volunteer fire units. We have just talked to them. There are both professionals and volunteers among them. The volunteers are well trained, equipped and rest with the other fire fighters in the main building. So basically, they serve like the others. This is important because we won’t be able to put out fires of such a magnitude without the help of volunteers.

Okay. We will talk with our colleagues now. I hope you get the situation under control.

Sergei Zhvachkin: I would like once again to thank you and the government.