The number of forest fires in Russia this year is down about 47% on 2004, according to official statistics.

A total of 10,058 fires covering 219,981ha have been registered since March, which represents a 41.2% reduction in the land area affected. August, the most active month for forest fires, has so far seen 250-300 fires burning daily – half that of last year.

The figures compare to an average of 34,000 fires in the forest fire season during the past decade, destroying up to 2 million ha in a single season.

But the actual total could be higher, possibly even twice as much, as many fires are not registered in the vast northern regions of Siberia and the Far East.

The Federal Forestry Agency is claiming credit for the reduction, pointing to its doubling of funding to prevent the spread of fire. It allocated 800m roubles (US$28.17m) on fire prevention, plus another 900m as part of a project to deliver heavy firefighting equipment to the most at-risk regions.

The Forest Fire Protection Concept, drawn up by the Russian Academy of Sciences, has also been put into practice. It advocates a new approach to firefighting – basically distinguishing between fires which should be extinguished and those to be left alone.