Up To 80 Percent of Wildfires Are Started By People


Up To 80 Percent of Wildfires Are Started By People

Up To 80 Percent of Wildfires Are Started By People
Up To 80 Percent of Wildfires Are Started By People – image via disastersafety.org

Wildfires aren’t as random as they might first seem. While it is true that they often times start during long periods of drought, high atmospheric temperatures, or lightning, wildfires are overwhelmingly started by people. In fact, five out of six wildfires in the US over the past two decades have been started by human activity. Either on purpose or by accident, human-caused wildfires have tripled the length of wildfire season, by making them start earlier in the East and making them last longer in the West.

Jennifer Balch, a fire ecologist at the University of Colorado, alongside her colleagues have analysed the occurrence of wildfires in the US between the 1992 and 2011. And in their analysis, they’ve discovered that 1.3 million such fires were actually started by people. And almost a third of these were caused by burning trash. Some 21 percent were caused with intent, which is about the same number of wildfires started by lightning. Another 11 percent was caused by faulty or misuse of equipment.

What’s even more shocking, but not necessarily surprising, is the fact that one out of five of these human-caused wildfires took place on the 4th of July. Now, even if these man-made fires are not the most damaging, they do account for about 44 percent of all burnt area of land.

This chart put together by the researchers show human-triggered wildfire incidence around the country. Credit: PNAS.

Another statistic here shows that most of these man-made fires are found in the Southeast. Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee, for instance, have had wildfire seasons extending more than 200 days a year and 99 percent of their fires were caused by people. The reason behind this overwhelmingly large number of man-made wildfires is that forests in these parts don’t catch on fire that easily.

“The role that humans play in starting these fires and the direct role of human ignitions on recent increases in wildfire activity have been overlooked in public and scientific discourse,” the scientists wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

And these numbers mentioned above don’t even take into account the man-made climate change and global warming that has also increased the incidence of naturally occurring wildfires. For instance, four of the most damaging wildfires that occurred since the 1960s have happened only in the past decade with 2015 being the worst on record. All of these factors combined have raised the total damages caused by fire in 2016 to a staggering $2 billion.

As a general rule of thumb, occasional and naturally-occurring wildfires are good for the environment and the ecosystem in which they happen. Burnt trees allow for a new generation to have room to grow into, which has its own series of benefits. The soils are revitalised thanks to the charcoal produced by the previous forest, and the watershed also has to benefit.

But with that being said, the overwhelmingly large number of forest fires, mostly cause by human activity, is not natural and do far more harm than good. Far more harm than good.


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