By XiaoZhi Lim
Ensia

As forest fires devastated Fort McMurray, Alberta, last month, a different sort of fire may have started beneath the ground. Peat, a carbon-rich soil created from partially decomposed, waterlogged vegetation accumulated over several millennia and the stuff that fueled Indonesia’s megafires last fall, also appears in the boreal forests that span Canada, Alaska and Siberia. With the intense heat from the Fort McMurray fires, “there’s a good chance the soil in the area could have been ignited,” says Adam Watts, a fire ecologist at Desert Research Institute in Nevada.

Unlike the dramatic wildfires near Fort McMurray, peat fires smolder slowly at a low temperature and spread underground, making them difficult to detect, locate and extinguish. They produce little flame and much smoke, which can become a threat to public health as the smoke creeps along the land and chokes nearby villages and cities.

 

Continue reading at Ensia. Originally published on June 28, 2016.

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