Northumberland research will help firefighters worldwide

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service.
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service.

Field research carried out in Northumberland over the summer gathered much-needed data that will help to predict how wildfires will spread in peatland and bog.

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, Northumberland National Park Authority and the Forestry Commission helped researchers from the Netherlands and the USA to gather the data for the project, which determined how quickly different areas of peatland and bog took to burn and how different types and amounts of vegetation would affect how a wildfire might burn and spread.

This research will help firefighters reliably predict where fires will spread and where the fires can be safely and effectively extinguished.

Peat fires are one of the hardest types of wildfire to extinguish as they can smoulder underground with almost no indication of where the fire is, or how intense it is. The field research provided existing wildfire prediction models with much-needed information on peatland vegetation and addressed the knowledge gap in these models.

Chief Fire Officer Alex Bennett said: “The research gathered in Northumberland will be invaluable to firefighters in Northumberland and across the world. Peat fires are particularly challenging for firefighters as they can burn underground for days or even weeks, emerging at the surface at various points, becoming difficult to control.

“We have attended fewer wildfires this year compared to previous years, but as happens every year we have still attended some significant wildfire incidents and the risk that wildfires pose to the county of Northumberland remains high. We will continue to work closely with our colleagues from the Netherlands and the USA to better understand how we can use models to predict how and where wildfires will spread.”

The research has been completed by a partnership of institutions including the Institute of Physical Safety (IFV) and van Hall Larenstein University in the Netherlands, and the Stephen F. Austin University in Texas, USA.

Andrew Miller, head of conservation at Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “Northumberland National Park contains peatlands of international importance. Peat that has formed over many thousands of years acts as an enormous carbon store and helps to hold water on the hills reducing flooding downstream.

“The vegetation that grows on the peat is home to unusual plants and animals, but all of this can be destroyed in a matter of hours by wildfire. It is therefore critical that we learn more about how to prevent these wildfires in the first place and how to best to manage them if they do occur.”

The researchers have delivered two information sessions to practitioners from Northumberland and the UK during their study visit. The researchers are now analysing their data and plan to return to the county in October to present some of the results of their study.

For more information on the Wildfire Conference, visit the website.