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As major wildfires like that on Saddleworth Moor continue to devastate the land and threaten wildlife, scientists are warning that thanks to climate change, this may become a more frequent event in Northern Europe including the UK and Ireland. Extreme heat and strong winds are the conditions that facilitate this kind of fire, and fire and rescue services, along with the army have had a real struggle to contain this latest blaze.
Professor of fire science at Imperial College London, Guillermo Rein, stated that according to recent studies, “climate change is expected to increase the fire frequency and severity of wildfires in Europe”.
These fires are also believed to exacerbate climate change due to the amount of stored carbon within the UK’s peatlands being released through fire. Since the last ice age, peatlands have helped to cool our climate and retain carbon, fires however could reverse that effect and return the carbon to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
There are other concerns associated with these recent fires too, as raised by Prof Susan Page of the University of Leicester. She said that “For the Saddleworth Moor fire, a further concern is the industrial legacy of this region, with the peat soils containing the fallout from many years of heavy industry in surrounding towns and cities. The peat soils contain this pollution legacy in the form of increased levels of heavy metals, which will also be liberated into the smoke by the fires.”
This fire has covered seven square miles across (18 sq km), with the active “fire front” stretching up to 2.5 miles (4km), and firefighters say it could rage for weeks. People within the region have been advised to stay indoors and keep windows shut, and those attempting to travel to the area to help are being discouraged, as it is too dangerous.