Top Causes of Wildfires and How to Prevent Them

Wildfires, like the ones ravaging Australia now and those seen in California in recent years, are a serious and growing threat. While we typically think of them as a natural phenomenon caused by lightning or sparked by other environmental factors, human-caused wildfires have become more of an issue than ever before. 

This article will explore the root causes of wildfires and what we can do to prevent them. By examining the causes and discussing potential solutions, we can work towards minimizing their impacts on our environment, wildlife, homes, and lives.

What Causes Wildfires?

When it comes to wildfires, there are two main categories: naturally occurring fires and human-caused fires. According to the National Park Service, most wildfires are caused by humans, with about 85-90% of fires caused by people.

Wildfires can happen naturally, like if the sun’s heat or a lightning strike sets something ablaze. But, more often than not, humans are responsible for starting these fires – leaving a campfire unattended, flicking a cigarette butt into the grass, or even deliberately starting a fire.


Human carelessness tends to be the most significant factor contributing to wildfires. But no matter what causes a wildfire, it needs three things to get started and keep going: fuel, heat, and oxygen. They often refer to these components as the “fire triangle.” Heat can come from a lot of different sources, including many that are caused by human activity. Strong winds can fan the flames and spread embers, making wildfires even more devastating. These factors combine to create an environment where a single ember can quickly turn into a massive, destructive fire. 

Fire happens when a fuel source – like trees, grass, or even a house – gets hot enough to ignite. This occurs when the heat brings the fuel to its flash point, the lowest temperature at which it can catch fire. Once the fuel is burning, it needs oxygen from the air to keep going – and that’s where the third component of the fire triangle comes in. So, you must remove at least one of these components to put out a fire. That’s the only way to stop the chemical reaction that causes combustion and keeps the fire burning.

Human Causes of Wildfires

Wildfires aren’t always the result of natural causes. Humans are often the ones responsible for starting them. So, if you’re out in the great outdoors, remember to be accountable – because even the slightest human error can lead to a massive blaze. Here are some of the most common ways human actions can result in devastating wildfires.

1. Burning Debris

The burning of debris is one of the most common causes of wildfires. The wind can carry stray embers for several miles and, if they encounter dry vegetation or other flammable materials, can quickly cause a wildfire. Extreme caution must therefore be exercised when burning debris. 

Burning Debris

2. Irresponsible Campfires

Irresponsible campfires can be a significant cause of wildfires. If a campfire is left unattended, the wind can easily pick up embers and transport them to nearby flammable materials, such as dry leaves or grass. This can lead to a wildfire in a matter of minutes. It is essential to take proper precautions to prevent such incidents when building and maintaining a campfire. 

Campfires should always be made in a designated fire pit or ring and should always be supervised. Campers should completely extinguish campfires before leaving the site by pouring water over the fire and stirring the ashes until there are no remaining embers.

3. Unextinguished Cigarettes

Unextinguished cigarettes pose a significant threat as a cause of wildfires. Unfortunately, many individuals are careless when discarding their cigarette butts, which can lead to detrimental consequences. Even worse, a burning cigarette tossed out a car window or onto the ground can ignite dry vegetation and potentially trigger a massive wildfire. 

Therefore, individuals should refrain from discarding their cigarette butts on the ground and ensure they are completely extinguished before disposing them in an approved receptacle. By doing so, we can help prevent catastrophic wildfires.

Unextinguished Cigarettes

4. Vehicle Crashes and Malfunctions

Vehicle crashes and malfunctions can unexpectedly result in wildfires. Vehicles have numerous potential ignition sources, and there are several ways in which malfunctions can cause fires. 

For instance, outdated exhaust systems can cause carbon to build up, leading to sparks and flames. Improperly greased bearings are another example of how vehicle malfunctions can start fires. If a vehicle is towing a trailer, the chains may drag and cause sparks, and car accidents can also result in a fire.

5. Arson

It’s a tragic truth that many wildfires aren’t just caused by carelessness but are started intentionally by people. This wrongful act of deliberately setting fires is called arson and is responsible for around a quarter of all wildfires in the U.S. annually.

Many arsonists are serial offenders who set multiple fires before being caught by authorities. To prevent this kind of malicious behavior, one of the most effective measures is to prosecute anyone seen starting fires on purpose aggressively.


6. Climate Change

Climate change is a significant factor in the increase of wildfires worldwide. The rise in global temperatures and changes in weather patterns caused by climate change leads to drier and hotter conditions, creating the perfect environment for wildfires to ignite and spread.

One way climate change contributes to wildfires is by altering precipitation patterns. Droughts are becoming more frequent and severe in many parts of the world due to the changing climate. As a result, the vegetation becomes dry and susceptible to ignition. Additionally, higher temperatures can increase the evaporation rate, further drying out vegetation and making it more prone to combustion.

7. Monocultures

Monocultures are agricultural systems in which only one type of crop is grown over a large area. While this method can be efficient for producing a high yield of a particular crop, it can also increase the risk of wildfires. This is because monoculture tends to create a uniform and often dense landscape, which can act as a fuel source for fires.

When a wildfire starts in a monoculture field, the uniformity of the landscape means that the fire can spread quickly and efficiently across the entire area. The lack of diversity in the plant species also means there is less variation in the moisture content of the vegetation, making it more susceptible to ignition.

Related: Famous Climate Change Scientists, Climate Alarmism, Reforestation

Natural Causes of Wildfires

It’s a fact that human activity causes most wildfires, but natural events cause about 10 percent of them. This section will cover a few examples of natural events that can lead to wildfires.

1. Lightning

A few natural events can lead to wildfires, and lightning is one of them. Wildfires may sometimes start from long-lasting lightning bolts or strikes that ignite extremely dry debris. Sadly, there isn’t much we can do to prevent these kinds of wildfires from happening.


2. Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanic activity is another natural cause of wildfires. When hot liquid rock from a volcano, also known as lava, flows over vegetation, the intense heat can cause it to catch on fire and spread to form a wildfire. You can commonly see this type of wildfire in the Hawaiian Islands, where volcanic activity is more frequent.

Volcanic Eruptions

3. Droughts

Droughts are a natural phenomenon that can lead to devastating wildfires, which can have far-reaching consequences for both humans and wildlife. When rainfall is scarce and the soil becomes dry and brittle, the risk of wildfires increases significantly, as even a small spark can ignite the parched vegetation. 

As drought conditions persist, plants and trees become dehydrated and more susceptible to ignition. Even a small ember from a cigarette or a lightning strike can ignite dry vegetation, leading to a rapidly spreading wildfire. As the flames spread, they consume everything in their path, including homes, businesses, and natural habitats.


Most wildfires are caused by human activity, such as unattended campfires, unextinguished cigarettes, burning debris, and intentional arson. However, we can prevent wildfires by carefully disposing of materials. By preventing wildfires, we can work towards preserving the environment and reducing the damage caused by these disasters.

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