THE meteorite that wiped out Earth’s dinosaurs instantly ignited forest wildfires up to thousands of kilometres from its impact zone, scientists have discovered.

The six-mile-wide meteorite struck the Yucatan peninsula in what is now Mexico at the end of the Cretaceous Period 66 million years ago.

Its devastating impact brought the reign of the dinosaurs to an abrupt end by triggering their sudden mass extinction, along with the end of almost three-quarters of the plant and animal species then living on Earth, scientists say.

By analysing rocks dating to the time of the strike, a team of geoscientists from the UK, Mexico and Brazil has recently discovered that fires broke out within minutes, at most, of the impact, in areas stretching up to 2500km (1553 miles) or more from where the meteor struck.

In a newly published study, they said wildfires that broke out in coastal areas were short-lived, as the backwash from the mega-tsunami caused by the impact swept charred trees offshore.

And by studying the fossilised tree bark, the geoscientists discovered that fires had already begun by the time the trees were washed away.

Professor Ben Kneller, from the University of Aberdeen’s School of Geosciences, who is among the co-authors said: “Ultimately our research confirms how and when these devastating fires were begun and paints a vivid and quite terrifying picture of what happened in the immediate aftermath of the meteorite strike.”

The study was supported by Shell Brazil under the Brazilian Government’s Science without Borders programme.