Mosul Fires Burning for Six Months and Counting

Oil fires south of Mosul, largely ignited by fleeing ISIS militants, have been blazing since June, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of families and jeopardizing the Iraqi government’s recapture of the city.

UPDATE DECEMBER 16th: Fires continue to rage north of al-Qayyarah as winter arrives across the region. Firefighters could see some relief as temperatures cool and chances for rain typically increase around Mosul in the early months of the year. However, precipitation may also increase the threat of acid rain and other environmental damages.

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As violence continues to ravage Mosul and its surrounding geography, Iraqi soldiers and civilians have to contend with oil fires as well as gunfire. Some 60 kilometers to the south of Mosul, dozens of oil fields have been set ablaze by ISIS militants. Imagery from NASA and USGS’s Landsat 8 shows how the fires have progressed since early summer.

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Each satellite image was taken in 32-day intervals, providing a sense of just how these fires have evolved and affected the landscape. Smoke from the fires has threatened much more than visibility. It’s toxic, the air unbreathable.

Beyond complicating efforts to recapture the city from ISIS, the blazes forced the evacuation of hundreds of households from the nearby city of al-Qayyarah. The fires, which have incinerated an area just north of the town, continue to exude sulfur gas and thick, black smoke over an area larger than Manhattan. This noxious smoke has threatened the lives of hundreds, exacerbating Iraq’s already dire refugee crisis.

Encouragingly, Iraqi forces now have managed to quell many of the fires, but work still remains. Even once all fires are suppressed, the true extent of damage will be realized. This latest example of ISIS’s scorched-policy demonstrates the sheer devastation the group has caused both to land and people.

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