Yakutsk in Russian Siberia is known as the world’s coldest city. In a place where even an exposed nose during the winter months can cause biting pain, people are accustomed to taking precautions against freezing temperatures, including spending extra time in the morning to dress in many layers.
But now the city is blanketed in haze as nearby wildfires tear through forests that have been parched by weeks of heatwaves. The fires are so big, and the winds strong, smoke is traveling as far away as Alaska. In the US, the Bootleg wildfire in Oregon has grown into a monstrous complex with its own weather, sending the dense smoke some 3,000 miles across one end of the continent to the other. New York City on Wednesday woke up to an intense red sunrise, the smell of wildfires and a thick brown haze. Firefighters in both countries, as well as British Columbia in Canada, are fighting a near-impossible battle to smother the infernos with water bombs and hoses, and preventing their spread by digging firebreaks.
The smoke in the republic of Yukutia in Siberia was so thick on Tuesday that reconnaissance pilot Svyatoslav Kolesov couldn’t do his job. There was no way he could fly his plane in such poor visibility. Kolesov is a senior air observation post pilot in the far eastern Russian region of Yakutia. This part of Siberia is prone to wildfires, with large parts of the region covered in forests. But Kolesov told CNN the blazes are different this year. “New fires have appeared in the north of Yakutia, in places where there were no fires last year and where it had not burned at all before,” he said. Kolesov is seeing first hand what scientists have been warning about for years. Wildfires are becoming larger and more intense and they are also happening in places that aren’t used to them.