ISIL's blazing trail of destruction in Qayyara

Amid their retreat from the Iraqi town, ISIL fighters lit oil wells ablaze, blanketing the area in suffocating smoke.

Qayyara, Iraq – The oil-rich town of Qayyara, about 60km south of Mosul, was retaken in August from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), whose fighters controlled the town for more than two years.

Anticipating their defeat, fighters with ISIL (also known as ISIS) first torched oil wells along the edges of the town in early July. The oil plumes billowing up from the ground aimed to impede US-led coalition air strikes, and to leave a ruined prize behind.

An acrid stench of sulphur and oil now permeates the city, and soot has stained everything black. Still, life is returning to the streets. Civilians have come back from camps and informal settlements, as fruit sellers ply their trade with paper masks over their mouths to help protect their lungs. Iraqi fire crews have so far been unable to fully extinguish the massive fires.

In the meantime, the civilian population of Qayyara has been left to choke on the fumes, spread at the mercy of the wind, which can leave the skies clear on one day, and blot out the sun the next.