Photos Show Massive Russian Wildfires Ripping Through Forests Seen From Space

Record heat and drought conditions have sparked massive wildfires in Russia that can be seen from space.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released photos Wednesday of the fires burning through the taiga forests in Sakha, a federal Russian republic also known as Yakutia.

An infrared imaging device on the Suomi NPP, a polar-orbiting satellite system, picked up one of the images on July 5. The natural-color image showed large clouds of smoke surrounding the Sakha region.

Massive Russian Wildfires from Space
An infrared imaging device on the Suomi NPP, a polar-orbiting satellite system, picked up one of the images on July 5. This natural-color image showed large clouds of smoke surrounding the Sakha region. NASA Earth Observatory Images by Lauren Dauphin

NASA said satellite data showed there were several small fires burning in the area on and off for weeks, but that several of the blazes "exploded in size" during the last week of June.

More than 260 fires were burning in the region as of Monday, according to Russia's Ministry of Emergency Situations. The fires covered more than 607,000 hectares of land, which is roughly 1.4 million acres or 2,220 square miles.

The ministry said in a news release that 2,714 people and 320 pieces of equipment were involved in helping to extinguish the flames. Seventy-five fires were being eliminated per day, the ministry added, but they would likely be battling fires for weeks.

Aisen Nikolayev, the head of the Sakha Republic, said the massive wildfires are linked to the region's historic drought conditions. In a Facebook livestream last week, Nikolayev said there hadn't been such a dry June "for almost 150 years."

Tatiana Marshalik, the head of the hydrometeorological center of Yakutia, said that on June 20 the region recorded a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius, or 100 degrees Fahrenheit—shattering the previous record of 37.3 degrees Celsius in 1988

A second NASA image captured plumes from five fires burning near the Manily district and Penzhina Bay, a long and narrow bay off the northwestern coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The image was acquired on NASA's Aqua satellite.

Five wildfires burn in Sakha, Russia
NASA image captures plumes from five fires burning near the Manily district and Penzhina Bay, a long and narrow bay off the northwestern coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula. NASA Earth Observatory Images by Lauren Dauphin

Another image acquired on NASA's Operation Land Imager (OLI) showed a detailed view of one of the fires, including smoke and a burn scar.

Space photos of massive Russian wildfires
Another image acquired on NASA’s Operation Land Imager (OLI) shows a detailed view of one of the fires, including smoke and a burn scar. NASA Earth Observatory Images by Lauren Dauphin

Officials warned residents of the region to minimize outdoor activities or use protective masks to reduce the health effects of the smoke. They also recommended people limit physical activity, drink more water, and take steps to prevent smoke from entering their buildings.

This is the second year in a row that Russia has experienced massive wildfires. According to Statista, the largest area burned by forest fires in the nation was recorded in the Sakha Republic, where wildfires swelled to 6.3 million hectares.

Scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reported that the Arctic wildfires of 2020 set new CO2 emissions records. Most of the increased activity, the scientists confirmed, took place in Russia's Sakha Republic.

Elizabeth Hoy, a senior support scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told Newsweek that the warmer and drier temperatures are creating conditions that are "just ripe" for wildfires in the Sakha region and other areas of the Arctic.

"I think that as we start to see these warmer temperatures more consistently, we're going to see problems with the fire regimes of these areas," Hoy said. "We're going to see these more intense, more severe wildfires and burning throughout a longer time period of the year."

Update (7/9/2021, 4:30 p.m. ET): This story was updated to include comments from NASA scientist Elizabeth Hoy.