The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates about 70,000 wildfires occur annually in the United States since 1983. The fires range from minimally damaging to deadly and widespread. Unfortunately, wildfire instances are increasing as time goes on. It leaves people asking the question, “Why?” It’s a horrible thing to see forests destroyed, homes evacuated and ruined, and animals and people displaced, injured, and worse. The best way to combat the increase in fires is to understand why wildfires are becoming more frequent so you can tackle the issue at the root. Read on as we look at several reasons for the increase in wildfires and the options to prevent them.
What Causes Wildfires?
Wildfires either ignite naturally or stem from human negligence or malice. Let’s look at how both scenarios can happen.
A forest fire can start from the heat of the sun’s rays or from a lightning strike. The forest sees the sun daily and lightning often as well. If either heat source catches a tree or dried grass just right, it can ignite. As a small fire or sparks receive oxygen exposure, they can ignite further, leading to a wildland fire.
A wildfire that starts from human cause means that a person or persons made a mistake or purposely did something that created a fire in the forest or surrounding areas. Some possible ways humans start wildfires are as follows:
- Unattended campfires
- Electrical equipment that malfunctions
- Downed power lines
- Cigarettes thrown outside
- Burning yard waste
- Sparks generated from metal pieces dragging behind or under a vehicle
- Out-of-control prescribed burning
It’s sad to imagine anyone would purposely start a forest fire; however, it does happen. Accidental fires are more common, though, and if people were more careful, they could avoid them.
Reasons for the Wildfire Increase
As we mentioned, the United States has seen an increase in wildland fires in recent years. Why? Three things must work together to start a wildfire and keep it going: hot temperatures, low humidity, and dry fuel. Therefore, one of the reasons why wildfires are becoming more frequent is climate change, which leads to droughts, a dry atmosphere, and hotter temperatures. Let’s look closer at these three factors.
Extreme heat and dry conditions lead to a drought, causing grass, trees, and other vegetation to become dry and brittle, making them major catalysts for fire. Imagine throwing a lit cigarette on the damp ground as opposed to tossing it on dry grass. The damp grass might snuff the cigarette out, but the dry grass will ignite quickly. The same thing can happen with natural causes. A drought leads to dry conditions, making the forest ripe for burning and spreading flames fast.
Forests need some humidity to help keep fires at bay and slow them from spreading. When the atmosphere is dry, which is becoming more common due to climate change, humidity levels lower and increase the chance of wildland fires occurring.
Higher temperatures exacerbate drought-like conditions. When everything is dry from a lack of rain and humidity, the heat only worsens it by drying things even more. This aggravates small fires and allows them to rage into larger natural disasters.
How To Prevent Wildland Fires
Since climate change is largely out of individual control, combatting wildland fires may seem hopeless. And though we can control our own actions to not commit arson or be negligent with fire instigators, we can’t control the actions of others.
Still, people are behind the scenes working daily to predict and deter wildland fires and share preventative advice with the world. By employing this advice, you can contribute to a world in which everyone can continue to enjoy the forests and other wildland areas for years to come.
According to the US Department of the Interior, nine of 10 wildland fires start with humans. That’s something to take seriously. The following are suggestions for how we can stay alert and do our best to avoid creating wildfires:
- Watch the weather: If conditions are dry or it hasn’t rained for days, it’s a good idea to avoid starting recreational fires. These include campfires, bonfires, or small backyard fires.
- Mind campfire placement: When camping, choose an open, flat area for your fire rather than a spot surrounded by vegetation. Also, scrape away flammable materials. Grass, twigs, and other flammable items create a greater risk of spreading a fire.
- Extinguish campfires: After you’ve enjoyed your fire, extinguish it completely until it is cold. You can do this by pouring water on it and stirring until it is out. Repeat the process to be safe.
- Don’t go off-roading: Off-roading is safe when the ground is moist. However, when the grass is dry from drought, avoid driving vehicles on it since the exhaust gets extremely hot and can ignite the dry grass.
- Maintain vehicles: Some areas of a vehicle can spark, which is dangerous in dry conditions. Sparks are more likely to happen in poorly maintained vehicles, so stay on top of maintenance to avoid the risk of sparks. Do the same for trailers, making sure nothing is dragging or sparking from them.
- Avoid fireworks: Fireworks are safe to use in the right conditions, but not when the grass and vegetation are dry. If lighting fireworks over water isn’t an option, save them for a year with enough rain.
- Be careful with yard waste: Burn piles aren’t safe to use in dry conditions or when the winds blow in an unsafe direction. Do your burning on a different day.
We can’t completely prevent wildland fires or control climate change, hot temperatures, and dry conditions. However, as occupants of this planet, we should do what we can on our end to help lower the risk of wildland fires.
Our forests wouldn’t stand a chance without the brave people who fight wildfires. At The Supply Cache, we are honored to supply wildland firefighters with the high-quality equipment and gear they need. Items like our wildfire shelter, which meets specifications from the US Forestry Service and is approved by the US Government, help protect firefighters in dangerous conditions when life is on the line. If you’re a wildland firefighter, browse our catalog of equipment and gear to find items that meet the highest standards and requirements. Feel free to contact us with any questions.