Flames engulfing forests, homes gutted, animals turned to ash: we all looked on in horror at the wildfires that have swept through Australia, the USA and mainland Europe in recent years. But now, terrifyingly, that very same phenomenon is happening in the UK.
As the country struggled through the heatwave this week, hundreds wildfires raged, destroying homes and habitats in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and London. Thing is, scientists have been warning us for ages that this exact phenomenon is becoming more likely as climate emergency worsens. Last year, a study led by the University of Reading found that parts of eastern and southern England may face the highest threat level – referred to as ‘exceptional danger’ – several days a year by 2080 if the world continues to emit high levels of greenhouse gases.
Professor Nigel Arnell, a climate scientist who led the research, said: ‘Extremely hot and dry conditions that are perfect for large wildfires are currently rare in the UK, but climate change will make them more and more common.
‘This increased fire danger will threaten wildlife and the environment, as well as lives and property, yet it is currently underestimated as a threat in many parts of the UK.’
A Met Office report from last year concurred, predicting a 50 percent increase in wildfires across the globe by 2100 including in places like Central Europe – and even the Arctic.
The fires start spark, which often come from barbecues or glass magnifying the sun onto dry grass. Because this is hard to predict, it’s difficult to model exactly how often wildfires are likely to occur – but scientists are certain we’re going to see them much, much more often.
As for what we can do? Some organisations, like Moors For The Future, are attempting to mitigate the effects of extreme heat on our environment by keeping potentially dry areas wet (meaning fires are unlikely to start). And on an individual level, definitely make sure to extinguish your cigs and put out your camp fires.
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Plus: what will British weather actually be like in 2050? We asked an expert.