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How Do Wildfires Start?

Weather
Author: ServiceMaster Restore

The past several years wildfires have been rampant, ravaging parts of California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. In 2018 alone, 8.7 million acres of land were burned in wildfires. Why do these wildfires seem to be getting more intense and more frequent with time?

Hot, dry conditions are often pointed as being the main reason why wildfires start, however, they do not automatically guarantee a fire will break out—something needs to create the spark and actually start the fire. In some parts of the country, like Alaska, most fires are ignited by lightning. In other areas, like California, most fires are started by humans.

Knowing how wildfires start in your region, and if your area is particularly vulnerable to wildfires, can help you better prepare.

Wildfire Causes

Wildfires can be started in a variety of ways, but the two main wildfire causes are natural and human.

Natural Causes of Wildfires

Natural wildfires are almost always caused by lightning, though in rare instances volcanoes, meteors, and coal seams can also cause wildfires. When lightning strikes, it produces enough heat to easily ignite leaves, trees or other organic material, especially in dry conditions.

Lightning can be especially dangerous because it can cause a wildfire anywhere, even in hard-to-access areas. It is also usually accompanied by strong winds from thunderstorms that can turn a spark into a raging fire.

Natural conditions that make it more likely for a wildfire to start also increase the risk. The United States Geological Society says that climate change could cause more frequent and intense wildfires, although a direct relationship hasn’t been determined. However, researchers have found that warmer summers result in more wildfires. The general consensus is that wildfire frequency will increase with climate change.

Human Causes of Wildfires

Nearly 85 percent of wildfires are caused by people. Human-caused wildfires can be classified into accidental fires and incendiary fires. Some of the accidental causes include unattended campfires, smoldering cigarettes, debris burning, sparks from equipment, fireworks, and in recent years, gender reveal parties.

Incendiary causes include arson and illegal or unauthorized burning, both of which can lead to large damage to property. According to a study by the Forestry Sciences Laboratory, over 0.5 million fires are set by arsonists each year, resulting in over $3 billion in damages.

Knowing how to put out a fire is an important skill that may help prevent a wildfire from starting in your area.

How Common are Wildfires?

Data from the National Interagency Fire Center shows that the number of

annual wildfires has decreased slightly over the last 30 years, but the number of acres impacted annually has increased.

In 2020, more than 58,000 wildfires burned a record-setting 10+ million acres, nearly 40% of these acres in California. The reason why California has so many wildfires is due to the dry, windy, and hot weather conditions that provide the perfect conditions for a wildfire to start. When combined with the natural or human made causes, such as sparks from equipment, overhead power lines, or arsonists, this can lead to devastating wildires. In addition, wildfires are common in forested areas, so California and other areas with dense forests may be more at risk.

infographic showing wildfires in California

While most of these happen during wildfire season, they can start whenever conditions are favorable. Fortunately, the Forest Service has resources to forecast potential wildfire activity and a strategy in place to stop it quickly when it occurs.

How Can I Protect My Property from Wildfires?

While wildfires are hard to predict and control, there are some preventive steps that you can take.

Just a few of the ways you can protect your property from wildfires include:

  • Removing dead vegetation from trees and bushes close to your home. Dead vegetation provides the perfect fuel for a fire to spread quickly. Removing it will help decrease the chances that a fire will spread to your property.
  • Moving firewood away from home. It goes without saying, but having firewood or other combustable materials near your home increases the risk of fire spreading to your home.
  • Clearing out gutters of twigs and leaves. Wildfires spread quickly and having twigs or leaves in your gutter provides the perfect fuel needed for the fire to spread quickly and close to your home’s walls.
  • Ensuring your home’s roof uses class A fire rating materials. While they will not protect you against all fires, they will last 2 to 4 hours before ignition, and can withstand fire for longer compared to other roof types.

Recover from Wildfire Damage to Your Property

Wildfires spread fast and can cause major damage to your home and other property. It can lead to severe damage to your property and lead to destruction of your foundation. In addition it can also lead to other damage throughout your home, including damage to carpets, furniture, walls, roofs or windows, odor damage to your home, or soot which will need to be removed.

If you do experience wildfire damage to your home or business, ServiceMaster Restore is ready to help. We’ll review your property and work with you to restore what can be restored, keeping you informed throughout each step. We have more than 850 locations across the United States that are locally owned and operated.

Our team is backed by over 65 years of experience, and our restoration experts will help you get back to normal as quickly as possible. Call 1-800-RESPOND to reach our disaster response center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

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