Fire threats in the UK sometime in a century could happen most years to the end of the century

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Extremely hot and dry conditions that currently put parts of the UK at the most severe once-a-century fire hazard could happen every other year for decades due to climate change, a new study has found. A study led by the University of Reading, predicting that the risk of forest fires will increase in the future, showed that parts of eastern and southern England could be at the highest level of danger on average almost four days a year by 2080 with high emissions, in compared to once every 50-100 years.

Fires need a source of ignition that is difficult to predict, so fire risk is usually measured by the probability that a fire will develop after an ignition spark. This fire hazard is affected by weather conditions. As temperatures rise and summer rains fall, conditions very conducive to fire could be almost five times more common in some regions of the UK in the second half of the century.

In the driest regions, this could endanger habitats for an average of up to four months a year, scientists have discovered.

Professor Nigel Arnell, a climate scientist at the University of Reading who led the study, said: “Extremely hot and dry conditions that are perfect for large fires are currently rare in the UK, but climate change will make them more common in the coming decades. , forest fires could pose as much of a threat to the UK as they are currently in the south of France or parts of Australia.

“This increased fire risk will endanger wildlife and the environment, as well as lives and property, but is currently underestimated as a threat in many parts of the UK. This research highlights the growing importance of taking the UK fire threat seriously, because it is likely to be all bigger problem in the future. “

In a new study, published in the journal Letters on environmental research, scientists observed how often different regions of the UK would experience conditions that made it very likely that any fire would occur. They calculated future fire hazards based on the latest UKCP18 climate scenarios with low and high greenhouse gas emissions, using the version of the Met Office fire severity index used to determine fire hazard levels.

They found that the average number of “very high” days of danger would increase significantly each year in all parts of the UK by 2080. Without London, southern and eastern England are predicted to be hardest hit, with an average number of dangerous days more than quadrupled. , averaging up to 111 days in the south-east and 121 days in the east of England.

A significant increase by 2080 has also been recorded in the West Midlands (13 to 96 days). Even traditionally wet parts of the UK would take longer to dry, making them vulnerable to strong fires for an average of a few weeks each year, including Wales (5 to 53), Northern Ireland (2 to 20) and Western Scotland (3 to 16).

It was found that days of “extreme danger” – currently extremely rare in the UK – became more common across the UK by 2080, with the East of England (0.02 to 3.55), the East Midlands (0.03 to 3.23) ), Southeast (0.01 to 1.88), and Yorkshire and Humberside (0.01 to 1.55), all recording a large increase in the number of days in the year when these conditions were present.

Research has shown that the projected increase in fire hazards is mainly due to hot temperatures, less rain, lower humidity and stronger winds expected across the UK in the coming decades due to climate change.

Forest fires pose environmental, health and economic risks. Although the UK records tens of thousands of fires each year, they are almost all very small, especially compared to those in countries and regions like Australia and California, which have a hotter, drier climate for the UK in the coming decades.

Although the UK has so far suffered very small losses from the fires, it is estimated that up to £ 15 million will be spent each year to put them out. In England, there is no coordinated fire strategy, only a voluntary forum that has no authority to set standards or guidelines.

Notable examples of forest fires in the UK are the Swinley Forest fire on the Surrey / Berkshire border in May 2011 which threatened critical infrastructure; the Saddleworth Moor fire in Peak County in May 2018 and the Wanstead Flats fire in London in July 2018 which caused residents to be evacuated; loss of residential and commercial property in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, in July 2018; and a large-scale fire in Moray, Scotland in April 2019 that threatened an onshore wind farm.

Although natural weather and climate conditions directly affect the “danger” of fire, the “risk” of fire often depends on intentional or accidental human actions. Therefore, this study does not indicate the likelihood of fires occurring, but only their likelihood of fires occurring.


Widespread fire as a proxy for a resource strain


More information:
NW Arnell et al., The Effect of Climate Change on Fire Hazard Indicators in the UK, Letters on environmental research (2021). DOI: 10.1088 / 1748-9326 / abd9f2

Provided by the University of Reading

Citation: Threats of wildfires in the UK sometime in the century could occur most years to the end of the century (2021, March 25) retrieved March 25, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-03-once- in-a-century-uk-wildfire-threats-years.html

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