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Smoke cloud larger than European Union covers Siberian summer sky

A plume from unprecedented blazes is forecast to reach Alaska as fires rage for a third month.

A cloud of smoke and soot bigger than the European Union is billowing across Siberia as wildfires in the Arctic Circle rage into an extraordinary third month. A spate of fires in northern Russia, Alaska, Greenland and Canada discharged 50 megatons of carbon dioxide in June and 79 megatons in July, far exceeding the previous Arctic record. 

The normally frozen region, which is a crucial part of the planet’s cooling system, is spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and worsening the manmade climate disruption that created the tinderbox conditions.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the wildfire smoke covers more than five million square kilometres (more than 1.2 billion acres or 500 million hectares), a size larger than the European Union, which is about 4.5 million square km or 1.1 billion acres or 450 million hectares.

Russian president, Vladimir Putin called in the army last month to combat the fires, while the four regions of Siberia declared a state of emergency.

It is estimated that the blaze has destroyed 4.3 million hectares in Siberia alone.

Greenpeace Russia wildland fire expert Anton Beneslavskiy said:

“These fires should have been put out at the very beginning but were ignored due to weak policies. Now it has grown into a climate catastrophe that cannot be stopped by human means.

“Russia should increase efforts in forest protection and provide sufficient funding for firefighting and fire prevention.”

On Friday morning residents of the Verkhoyansk area of Siberia awoke to pitch darkness hours after the sun should have risen. By 8am, more than four hours after dawn should have broken, an area the size of Italy was reportedly still under black skies and air temperatures had fallen.

Locals in the sparsely populated sub-Arctic region said the darkness had a yellow tinge, according to the Siberian Times.

The mystery was compounded by the fact a similar phenomenon was observed over three huge areas of Yakutia in July last year.

A resident of the town Verkhoyansk said:

“Is it becoming a weird tradition that every August or July we wake up, panicking, because the sun is off again?” 

Weather experts announced the unexpected blackout was likely to be due to a mixture of thick rain clouds combining with smoke from wildfires raging amid soaring temperatures.

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