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Weather Wise: Wildfire Causes

Wildfire in Montana
Posted at 6:50 PM, Jun 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 11:02:34-04

HELENA — Smokey Bear famously said, “Only you can prevent wildfires.” The slogan may never have been more true than today.

That's because according to the Department of the Interior, from 2016 to 2020 nearly 88% of wildland fires in the United States have been caused by humans.

Human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, equipment use and malfunction such as downed power lines, negligently discarded cigarettes, firearms and fireworks and acts of arson. Up to 97% of wildland fires that threaten homes are caused by humans.

Lightning is responsible for far fewer fires. However, those wildland fires caused by lightning tend to be slightly larger and burn more acreage. 55% of the acreage burned from 2016 to 2020 was ignited by lightning.

Years ago, the ratio of wildland fires caused by humans and lightning was more 60% to 40% or even over certain areas of the United States.

Human-caused fires spread nearly twice as fast as lightning-induced burns because they are more associated with drier, less-forested landscapes, devoid of the live vegetation that could limit fire spread.

More people means more people recreating and more human-caused fires. The longer fire seasons could also be attributed to humans.

And remember, only you can prevent wildfires.