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Wildfires: we calculated how climate change will increase danger in the UK

Wildfires: we calculated how climate change will increase danger in the UK

The past few years have seen very severe wildfires in Australia, California, Siberia and around the Mediterranean. Wildfires have become one of the most potent symbols of the threats posed by global warming, and images of fire are widely used to illustrate climate change news stories.

People in the UK don’t often think of wildfires: it’s widely perceived that they occur in hot, dry places. But the wildfire danger in the UK is real. While the vast majority are small, several fires in recent years have threatened houses and infrastructure. Fires have burned through moorland and forests, and even passed through an onshore wind farm in Scotland. Although actual damage to property and harm to people has so far been limited, dealing with wildfires costs fire and rescue services up to £55 million per year.

Wildfires in the UK typically occur on moorland or heathland, and are almost always the result of some human action, sometimes deliberate but more usually accidental or inadvertent. The initial spark is unpredictable, but whether a spark leads to a wildfire depends on how much dry material is available to burn, and whether it is sufficiently windy for fire to spread. While we cannot say that climate change will alter the chance of getting a spark, we can be more confident that the conditions conducive to fire are likely to change into the future. Climate change will increase fire danger.

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