Wildfires have become increasingly common across North America in recent years. This is especially true in the West where ongoing droughts have left parched soil and dead plants in their wake—in other words, fuel for forest fires. By understanding how wildfires start, we can all do our part to prevent them this summer.
What Does Fire Need to Burn?
Fire is a chemical reaction that requires three things to ignite and continue burning:
- Oxygen: Since wildfires are located outside, they have no shortage of oxygen to draw from. This is one reason they can be so difficult to extinguish.
- Fuel source: Trees, shrubs, grass, and leaf litter make prime wildfire fuel. Dead plants are particularly flammable because they have little to no moisture content.
- Point of ignition: All it takes is one spark landing on a patch of grass or pile of sticks, and a wildfire is born.
Common Wildfire Starters
Nearly 85 percent of wildfires in the United States are caused by people. Potential wildfire starters in summer include:
- Improperly extinguished campfires
- Unattended barbecues
- Burning of debris
- Equipment use and malfunctions
- Discarded cigarettes
- Intentional acts of arson
In addition to human-caused starters, other major causes of wildfires include lightning strikes, sparks from falling rocks, volcanic eruptions, and spontaneous combustion.
Are Wildfires Natural?
Yes and no. In remote parts of the world, fires may ignite and burn until the fuel runs out or rain extinguishes them. Nature always springs back, sometimes growing stronger and better than before, now that the dead undergrowth is gone.
Some plants have even evolved to cope with regular wildfires. For instance, the lodgepole pine, Eucalyptus, and Banksia have cones or fruits sealed with resin, which only open to release their seeds after the heat from a fire has melted the resin.
However, climate change is increasing the prevalence of fire-starting conditions, making wildfires more frequent than nature can handle. Human-caused wildfires are also not natural and can inflict incredible devastation in the regions where they burn.
How to Prevent Wildfires
As the weather heats up and dries out, it’s important to follow local guidelines based on the fire danger level in your area. The next time you venture into the forest to hike or go camping, remember these rules:
- Never leave a campfire unattended. Extinguish the fire until the ground feels cool to the touch before breaking camp.
- Don’t light a campfire if a ban is in place.
- Avoid activities that could cause a spark, such as sharpening a knife or dragging chains on the ground.
- If you live in a rugged setting, trim your trees, mow your grass, and clean up debris from your property.
Has your home been damaged by the smoke and flames of a wildfire? Fire damage restoration services from DKI can help you recover. We offer structural cleanup and repair, contents restoration, odor removal, and more. Call us at 877-533-0210 for 24/7 disaster recovery assistance.