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expert reaction to UK wildfires

Wildfires have been recorded in the UK amid high temperatures.


Dr Matthew Jones, NERC Independent Research Fellow, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia, said:

“The wildfires across Europe, including in the UK, are causing huge alarm but the truth is that many scientists are not surprised at all. This is exactly what climate models have been predicting. Predictions are literally becoming reality and we are simply seeing climate change in action.

“The science is clear. Climate change is turning forests around the world into tinderboxes far more regularly than in a natural climate.

“What’s really alarming is that this is only the beginning. Models are predicting a huge increase in the number of days with fire as the climate shifts into unprecedented territory.

“For example, in many countries of southern Europe, we usually see about 15-30 days per year with extreme danger of wildfire. If we don’t do more to address the climate change problem, we are likely to see 50 days or more per year with extreme danger of wildfire. 

“The UK has not historically been a fiery place, but we are beginning to see the worrying changes here too. In recent decades, we have seen a handful of days per year with significant danger of fire in the UK, but if we miss the 2 degree warming target of the Paris Agreement, and head towards 3 degrees, then we are very likely to see this number double.

“You can see the scorched landscapes that wildfires are ripping through right now after a week or so of heat and drought. I don’t think you need to be a scientist to imagine what could happen if extreme weather like this becomes twice as common.

“These changes are predicted to happen within the next 50 years under the current progress towards net zero, so we are talking about the impacts of climate change on current generations, our children or grandchildren. So it really is time to act before we miss our chance.”


Dr Rory Hadden, Rushbrook Senior Lecturer in Fire Investigation, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Periods of hot dry weather result in perfect conditions for fires in vegetation to grow and spread rapidly. In addition increased recreational activity in these areas of vegetation will lead to more fires starting. The UK is not used to weather like this and we need to modify behaviours to prevent fires starting. There is excellent advice on this from local fire services and other bodies. The vegetation we have in many parts of the UK will spread fires very effectively and very rapidly. 

“The issue of fires starting near communities is a particular concern, as we have seen in some areas. Many parts of the world (USA, Southern Europe, Australia) are impacted by these so-called Wildland Urban Interface fires (in the area where housing and structures mix with, or are next to, vegetation) regularly. Usually in the UK large wildfires are confined to relatively remote areas such as heath and moorland. However the recent weather has shown that as the climate changes, the UK will be susceptible to these kinds of fires which can be extremely devastating with impacts on structures, communities, wildlife and life safety. The exact impacts will vary and we are still learning about these in the context of the UK, but we should expect more and larger wildfires as we experience longer and hotter spells of dry weather. 

“There are numerous scientists and experts in the UK working to help plan for and mitigate the effects of these fires using engineering and ecological techniques, but we also need to recognise that actions of individuals will ultimately be the key to managing the risks presented by these fires.”


Dr Thomas Smith, Assistant Professor in Environmental Geography, London School of Economics (LSE), said:

“I’m just coming to terms with the scale of these wildfires, looking at video footage.

“I think it’s fair to say that the UK has never seen wildfires like this before. It looks like fires have started in grassland or woody areas and spread into urban areas with the unprecedented loss of buildings. I hope there is no loss of life or injuries.

“The fire risk today was extreme, with record breaking temperatures accompanied by very low relative humidity, this coming on top of a very long spell without rain. This can lead to extreme fire behaviour with fast spreading fires burning with high intensity (large flames), making it very difficult to fight.”


Prof Guillermo Rein, Professor of Fire Science, Imperial College London, said:

“Higher temperatures lead to more and larger wildfires. The higher temperatures dry out the vegetation and this greatly increases its flammability. Dry vegetation is easier to ignite, so more wildfires are expected, and once burning the flames are taller and spread faster. This means also that the Fire Brigades are particularly busy during heatwaves fighting more wildfire that are also harder to stopped. Wildfires put people at danger and can destroy their property and valuable ecosystems. Wildfires are best fought before the start, via prevention and management of the natural resources.”


Prof Nigel Arnell, Professor of Climate Change Science, University of Reading, said:

“It’s not surprising that we’re seeing wildfires today – the hot, dry and windy conditions mean that the smallest spark could set off a fire. These conditions cover a large area, so it’s also not surprising that we’re seeing wildfires spring up in several places at the same time. This is challenging for stretched fire services, particularly where these fires are in urban settings. Wildfire is a rather unrecognised hazard in the UK. Whilst we might not see sorts of the forest fires currently sweeping through Spain, Portugal and France, we are increasingly prone to fires in grassland and moorland that have the potential to affect people, property and infrastructure as well as the environment. So far we’ve been lucky, but that may not hold for long. Climate change is increasing fire danger across the UK, and we need to be prepared for it.”



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