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Smouldering Fire in Peatlands

People: Nuria Prat, Claire Belcher, Rory Hadden, Guillermo Rein, Jon Yearsley

Smouldering earth at Tablas de Daimiel Our research focuses on a form of combustion called smouldering and its propagation through organic soils, such as peat. Smouldering is very different from flaming combustion (Table 1).
Our research aims to improve our understanding of smouldering fire phenomena in natural peatlands, and eventually inform the policy and management of smouldering peatland fires.

Table 1: Some differences between smouldering and flaming combustion
Impact Flame Temperature (degrees C) Propagation Spread Rate (cm/hour)
Flaming vegetation yes 1500 fast 100
Smouldering soil no 500-700 slow <5

Laboratory Experiments

IR image of smouldering peat We run small-scale laboratory experiments. In these experiments we mimic the heterogeneous moisture distribution found in real peatlands and record the propagation of the smouldering fire using infra-rad cameras (pictured right), visual images, thermocouples and changes in mass.

burn box filled with peat divider


  1. Stracher GB, Prat-Guitart N, Nugent C, Mullen E, Mitchell FJG, Hawthorne D, Belcher CM, Yearsley JM. 2019. Peat fires in Ireland. Chapter 20, Coal and Peat Fires: A Global Perspective, Ed G.B. Stracher, Vol 5, p451-482. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-849885-9.00020-2
  2. Prat-Guitart, N., Belcher, C.B., Thompson, DK, Burns, P., Yearsley, J.M., 2017. 'Fine-scale distribution of moisture in the surface of a degraded blanket bog and its effects on the potential spread of smouldering fire. Ecohydrology. [ Weblink module info]
  3. Prat-Guitart, N., Rein, G., Hadden, R.M., Belcher, C.M., Yearsley, J.M., 2016. Effect of spatial heterogeneity in moisture content on the horizontal spread of peat fires. Science of the Total Environment, Vol. 572, p1422-1430. [ Weblink module info]>
  4. Prat-Guitart, N., Rein, G., Hadden, R.M., Belcher, C.M., Yearsley, J.M., 2016. Propagation probability and spread rates of self-sustained smouldering fires under controlled moisture content and bulk density conditions. International Journal of Wildland Fire, Vol 25, p456-465. [ Weblink ]
  5. Prat-Guitart, N., Hadden, R.M., Belcher, C.M., Rein, G., Yearsley, J.M., 2015. Infrared image analysis as a tool for studying the horizontal smoldering propagation of laboratory peat fires, in: Stracher, G.B., Prakash, A., Rein, G. (Eds.), Coal and Peat Fires, A Global Perspective. Peat - Geology, Combustion and Case Studies. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp. 121–139. [ Weblink module info]
  6. Prat N., Belcher B.,Hadden R., Rein G., Yearsley J. (2015) A laboratory study of the effect of moisture content on the spread of smouldering in peat fires, FLAMMA, Vol. 6, Issue 1, p35-38 [ Weblink module info]
  7. Hudspith, V. a, Belcher, C.M., Yearsley, J.M., 2014. Charring temperatures are driven by the fuel types burned in a peatland wildfire. Frontiers in Plant Science. (5), 714. [ Weblink module info]
  8. Prat, N., Hadden, R., Rein, G., Belcher, C., Yearsley, J., 2013. Effect of peat moisture content on smouldering fire propagation, in: Wade, D., Fox, R. (Eds.), Proceedings of 4th Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference. International Association of Widland Fire, Missoula, USA, pp. 248–250. [ Weblink module info]
  9. Yearsley, J., Belcher, C.M., Hadden, R.M., Prat, N., Rein, G., 2013. Linking smouldering experiments with simple cellular automata models of smouldering fires, in: Wade, D., Fox, R. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 4th Fire Behaviour Conference. International Association of Wildland Fire, Missoula, USA, pp. 156–158. [ Weblink module info]
  10. Belcher, C.M., Yearsley, J.M.., Hadden, R.M., McElwain, J.C., Rein, G., 2010. Baseline intrinsic flammability of Earth’s ecosystems estimated from paleoatmospheric oxygen over the past 350 million years. Proceedings of National Academy of Science (107), 22448–22453. [ Weblink module info]


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