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Fires Around Lake Baikal
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Fires Around Lake Baikal

May 21, 2008

Strong winds fanned the flames of dozens of forest fires in southern Russia around Lake Baikal in the third week of May 2008. Russia's ITAR-TASS news service reported on May 13 that the area hit by forest fires in the Baikal region had increased 1.5 times on Monday, May 12. The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry warned residents that winds were expected to pick up to 15-20 meters/second (34 to 45 miles per hour) in the middle of the week, spreading fires dangerously close to cities, including Irkutsk and Bratsk, and threatening the regions's many dachas (summer homes).

This image of the steppes (grassland) and taiga (evergreen forest) around Lake Baikal was captured on May 15, 2008, by the MODIS on NASA's Aqua satellite. Places where the sensor detected actively burning fires are marked in red. The story of the strong winds is told by the dramatic plumes of smoke billowing from fires both northwest and southeast of the lake. The wind patterns diverge sharply over the lake. Southeast winds seem to drive the northern fires, while northwest winds drive the southern ones.

The fire hazard season in this part of Russia begins in April, and many fires are caused accidentally by people burning grass and brush near forest land. As recently as May 7, ITAR-TASS had reported that rain and wet snow had extinguished all fires in the Irkutsk region that had been burning since early May. Thus, the fires pictured here apparently started or flared up again dramatically in a relatively short span of time.

On this day in late spring, snow still blanketed the high elevations of the surrounding mountains, and the northern part of Lake Baikal—Earth's deepest lake—remained ice covered as summer approached. The Angara River, which flows out of the southwestern tip of the lake, was still frozen where it backs up behind a dam at the Bratsk hydroelectric plant.



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