Since the beginning of the Litli-Hrútur eruption on July 10, some 250 hectares [617 acres] of moss have burned. The wildfires on the Reykjanes peninsula are the largest-ever since records began, according to a recent report by the Icelandic Institute of Natural History.
Wildfires in the area began shortly after the eruption on Reykjanes, spreading rapidly to the North, East, and South. Efforts to contain the wildfires are still ongoing, with ICE-SAR, local firefighting teams, and the coastguard helicopter all taking part.
Aerial photographs taken by the Icelandic Institute of Natural History on July 11 showed that 15 hectares were burned, but only two days later, on July 13, an additional 95 hectares had burned, and the fire has spread significantly since.
Experts from the Icelandic Institute of Natural History state that from an environmental and conservation perspective, it is crucial to curb the spread of wildfires. When moss burns, the damage to vegetation is comparatively greater compared to grassland or wetland fires. According to the report, roots are often left intact after wildfires in grass- and wetlands, meaning that regrowth after such fires is relatively rapid. Moss, however, has no roots, meaning that regrowth takes considerably longer in moss fires.
Overall biodiversity is also affected, including small animals and birds. After a moss fire vegetation can entirely disappear, creating a risk of soil erosion and desertification. Luckily, experts report that due to the low-lying nature of the area, the risk of soil erosion is reduced. However, regrowth may still take decades.