At the beginning of September, large-scale wildfires broke out in several regions of Kazakhstan. First, they covered two areas of the country (Kostanai and East Kazakhstan oblasts). Authorities later reported fires in Pavlodar, Karaganda, Turkestan, and Zhetysu oblasts. The foothills of Almaty city were burning on September 6.
According to preliminary estimates, over forty thousand hectares of forests and agricultural lands were affected during the week, hundreds of houses burned, and people from several villages had to leave their homes. The president visited the region and supervised the rescue work. The extent of damage caused by the fires is still being specified. Planes and helicopters, thousands of people – rescuers, military, police, National Guard, representatives of regional parliaments, and foresters – participated in extinguishing the fires. Weather conditions complicated the work as there was abnormal heat from 30 to 35 °C in September almost all over the country.
In the air of some settlements around the fires were fixed increased indicators of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. The General Prosecutor's Office opened criminal investigations into the fires in Kostanai Region because it believes careless handling of fire and violations of fire safety regulations triggered the fires.
Burning the grass by farmers is one of the causes of forest and steppe fires. This practice is connected to the mistaken belief that new grass will grow better if you burn the dry one. However, this is a long outdated myth! The harm from such burning is much more significant than the benefit. Moreover, such practice is prohibited by law (Articles 336, 367, 410 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Kazakhstan)! The fire often spreads beyond where the farmer wants to renew the vegetation. Insects, wild and domestic animals, birds, microorganisms, and the entire ecosystem of the territory die in the fire. The soil remains vulnerable and suffers from salinization, water, and wind erosion afterward.
Fires and climate change are interconnected and influence each other. Climate change increases the risks of fires because increased temperatures and dry weather make vegetation flammable, leading to even more severe and uncontrollable fires. But humans are most often the cause of fires!
Fires themselves also affect climate change. When a fire breaks out, massive amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere in various forms – gases, ashes, and tiny black carbon particles. These particles all enter the atmosphere, travel great distances, and change the atmosphere's chemical composition.
Carbon dioxide (CO₂) is one of the leading greenhouse gases. The more of it in the atmosphere, the more the Earth heats up. Total annual carbon dioxide emissions from wildfires equal about a quarter of the emissions from burning oil, coal, and gas.
A wildfire weakens a forest because recovery takes time. The forest absorbs less carbon dioxide and releases less oxygen. Therefore, it does not help to slow climate change.
Reducing the number of fires requires a responsible attitude towards nature from each of us - careless handling of fire is one of the leading causes! And a robust system of monitoring, prevention, response, and protection of forests and steppes, with appropriate equipment and qualified specialists, is needed at the national level. And we also need to develop systems to adapt to climate change.
In 2022, Karaganda Regional Environmental Museum, together with Czech NGO "Arnika" launched a project on climate change mitigation in Karaganda Region with the grant of the European Union (EU) program "Civil Society Organizations and Local Authorities". The implementing partners, jointly with the state authorities, are developing a regional strategy to combat climate change to protect the population and the economy and raise awareness of climate change.
Disclaimer: 'This article was created and maintained with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the Arnika Association and EcoMuseum and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.'