An employee of the Krasnoyarsk base of aviation and forest protection will go on trial over wildfires in Siberia in 2019. Regional control service head Artem Khrebtov, 33 is the only defendant accused of negligence that caused large damage to forests.
Investigators said that Khrebtov knew that the situation in June 2019 was dangerous but never reported it.
“He certainly knew about large forest fires in Boguchansky District but did not inform the regional forestry about the emergency, a negative forecast, and the need to attract additional forces and fire-fighting equipment,” said the press service of the Investigative Committee Department for Krasnoyarsk Territory and Khakassia.
Investigators believe that the fire had spread all over the taiga causing almost 800 million rubles ($10.84 mln) in damage to the environment because of Artem Khrebtov's laziness or thoughtlessness. Such conclusions were based on the results of dozens of fire probes, assessments and accounting reports. Khrebtov's case was taken to court. Chances are he will be punished with a fine of 200,000 ($2,710.4) to 500,000 ($6,776) rubles, correctional labor, or six months in prison.
The investigators’ conclusions raised questions from people and experts. Indeed, it seems strange that just one middle manager is guilty of the wildfires that were seen even from space and whose impact was discussed by senior officials. What about the fires in the neighboring regions, for example, the Irkutsk region or Yakutia where they caused as much damage? What about the conclusions of the prosecutor's office and other supervisory bodies which reported widespread chaos in the forestry sector, illegal logging and arson? All the more so because everyone still remembers top regional officials’ assurances that the situation was under control. According to them, forest fires were normal and even necessary for nature. Therefore, they do not need to be extinguished.
Wek.ru called Artem Khrebtov but he refused to give any comments. “I have no time to talk. I have a lot of work to do, please, call the receptionist,” he said.
However, the management of the Forest Fire Center seems to have no desire to discuss the subject. Neither does the regional Ministry of Forestry. The Forestry Ministry's press service pointed out that the trial had not yet taken place, so making comments that could influence the course of the ongoing investigation was illegal.
Public activists firmly believe that Khrebtov plays a role of a classic “whipping boy” in this situation. This is part of schemes in the Russian timber industry and other sectors.
“This is a strong “tradition” to lie about wildfires and create the appearance of relative well-being in the segment of forest protection. Top officials need these lies. When it comes to responsibility, the ones who are held accountable are the local managers and specialists. They tailored their reports to the orders of their superiors. Next year, the demand for forest-fire lies will increase, especially if the Ministry of Emergency Situations takes over the federal aviation forest protection service. Almost all the benefits go to the higher authorities. Almost all the risks and problems go to industry leaders and specialists. Therefore, wildfires should be accounted for in a timely and correct manner. Reports and summaries should be truthful, no matter what superiors demand,” says Alexey Yaroshenko, Head of the Forestry Department of Greenpeace Russia.
“The forest fire catastrophe of 2019 is a consequence of systemic problems in the Russian forestry industry. At that time, many forest areas in the Krasnoyarsk territory were transferred to so-called “control zones” where firefighting was automatically recognized as inexpedient and economically inefficient. The constant underfunding of regional forest fire protection has slowed down the response to constantly occurring “hot spots”. Finally, the imperfection of the new Forest Code, to which virtually all prominent conservation organizations object, worsened the situation. In this particular case, a forest protection service employee is blamed for the lack of efforts in extinguishing forest fires in order to cover up and gloss over systemic mistakes, which will lead to more disasters in the future,” Alexander Kolotov, coordinator of Rivers without Borders, told wek.ru.