Study Blames Humans for 85 Percent of Wildfires in the United States

Study Blames Humans for 85 Percent of Wildfires in the United States

Wildfires across the United States lead to massive destruction, loss to environment, cost for nearby communities and expenses for emergency services. A new study has claimed that nearly 84 percent of all the wildfires in the United States during the last two decades have been caused due to human carelessness or arson. Under drier and warmer conditions, the risk of wildfires has increased and people should be extra careful to save our environment and forest cover. The study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado and University of Massachusetts has checked data regarding wildfires between 1992 and 2012.

The study team said that nearly 84 percent of wildfires could be linked human carelessness or deliberate action and rest of them were caused by lightning. Most lighting related fires occur during the summer months. The research team noted nearly 40,000 fires caused each year sparked by humans during fall, spring and winter.

The study team further informed that 29 percent of fires were caused by burning trash. 21 percent of fires could be linked to arson while 11 percent were caused by misuse of equipment. Smokers caused nearly 3 percent of wildfires while children were linked to four percent of the cases. Campfires led to nearly 4 percent of wildfires. Clearly, burning trash and debris is a major issue which should be addressed by local authorities. Authorities have been working to educate people about risk of campfire and smoking leading to wildfires but trash burning has emerged as a major cause.

Study details have been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The cost of fighting wildfires touched $2 billion in year 2016 in the United States. The study team only checked about wildfires that prompted firefighters to respond. Majority of wildfires caused by lightning in the wild have not been covered under the current study. The report informed, “Fires ignited by lightning were responsible for about half of the area burned by wildfires, with natural fires started in wilderness areas more likely to be left to burn themselves out.”

“Part of the message here does appear to be a little bit reminiscent of Smokey the Bear,” said University of Idaho climate and geography researcher John Abatzoglou, a coauthor of the new study. “Smokey the Bear isn’t totally wrong. But not right, either.”

"If a campfire grows out of control during a wet, cool period, then it probably isn't going to grow into a large wildfire," University of Utah fire scientist Philip Dennison, who wasn't part of the study, told the Associated Press. "Climate change loads the dice toward warmer, drier conditions that make it more likely that a fire will develop from human-caused ignitions."

“Arson fires are ignited for a variety of reasons,” said Jeffrey P. Prestemon, a U.S. Forest Service researcher who wasn’t involved with the study. “One of them is revenge — an arsonist may be trying to get back at a landowner for some reason. And another reason might be pure vandalism.”