Wildfires: How they get started and how to stop them

Let’s explore some latest wildfire statistics to help us learn better how dangerous this natural disaster is. Mother nature gets furious sometimes… but is there a way to help to prevent wildfires?

What exactly is a wildfire?

Often found in rural areas, wildfires are uncontrolled fires that burn in wildland vegetation. These fires can burn in grasslands, forests, and savannas, as well as other ecosystems and, are not limited to an isolated region or environment.

Wildfires consume everything in their paths, traveling up to 14 miles an hour and burning millions of acres of land.

These fires are shockingly fast and can overtake a human in minutes, making them some of the most dangerous natural disasters in the world. 

 What could cause a wildfire?

Wildfires burn in vegetation that is located both in and above the soil. With ground fires, the flames typically ignite because of organic matter that can feed the flames like living, dead, and decomposing plants, small animals, and microorganisms.

This type of wildfire can smolder for a great period of time without surfacing until the right conditions are met for it to turn into a crown fire. 

On the contrary, surface fires ignite from dead or dry vegetation that is above the ground like dried out grass and dead leaves. Surface fires tend to burn in trees and shrubs, making them very difficult to control as they feed off of the surrounding material. 

For any fire to begin, there are three important elements needed: fuel, heat, and oxygen.

What are the most common causes of wildfire?

In most cases, it only takes a single ember to destroy thousands of acres. The most common causes of wildfires are burning debris, unattended campfires, and electrical power. 

One of the most common causes of wildfires is escaped embers from burning debris. Escaped embers can carry for miles and miles on a particularly windy day and in some states, burning vegetation is legal during certain times of the year causing these escaped embers. 

Despite a campfire’s beautiful and nostalgic attraction, they are one of the leading causes of wildfires. One example of a campfire’s devastation is the Ham Lake Fire that destroyed over 75,000 acres.

California wildfires

Ranking as the third most common cause of wildfires in the state of California, fallen power lines can cause some deadly wildfires. It only takes a fallen branch to strike a power line and create a spark. Just about 10% of wildfires result from fallen power lines, including one of the deadliest fires in history, the Camp Fire, which demolished over 18,000 structures and took 85 lives.

Other common causes of wildfires include equipment use and malfunctions, vehicle crashes and engine sparks, discarded cigarettes, arson, and lightning. 


How many wildfires are caused by human error?

Research suggests that people start a lot more fires than lightning does. So much so that people are drastically altering wildfire in America and creating some of the greatest natural disasters in history.

Wildfires are classified as either a naturally occurring fire, like lightning, or a human-caused fire, like an improper campfire. Human-caused wildfires are much more common, setting in motion 85% to 90% of wildfires, according to the National Park Service. 

To prevent these human-caused fires, it is important to be cautious with all outdoor (and indoor) activities that can result in embers or sparks. Also, just think about how many flammable materials you have in your backyard right now.

Dry leaves for example, in the case of fire it can be spread easily. If you are living in an area where wildfires occur frequently – make sure that you use fire retardants for external use. Fire Retardants are practical for the protection of your property and keeping wildfires at bay. They will provide that additional layer of protection.


Wildfires in 2020

The wildfire statistics 2020 season was a record-setting one for the state of California and the United States. There were 52,113 wildfires that burned 8,889,297 acres which is just about 2.3 million more burned acres than the average of the last ten years.

This also almost doubled the number of acres burned in the 2019 season according to the NIFC. 

Australian catastrophic wildfires

The Australian wildfires were also a notable point of 2020 for their devastating results. The fires were uncontrollable as the situation worsened at the beginning of November 2019 with increased temperatures and a very long drought. 

Hotter weather and high winds escalated the crisis even more in the first weekend of February but thankfully, in mid-February a heavy rainstorm allowed firefighters to contain the majority of fires in New South Wales. 

By March 4th, 2020, all of the fires were extinguished or contained, spanning a nine-month range from the time the first fire began to burn. The bushfires burned more than 72,000 square miles, the equivalent of the entire country of Syria. 3,500 homes and other buildings were lost and 34 people died. 

What is the most deadly wildfire?

While hard to measure the exact impact of every wildfire in history, the 2003 Russian wildfires are listed as one of the largest wildfires with more than 200,000 burned km. The Australian wildfire of 2020 was also one of the largest wildfires with almost 180,000 burned km and 34 fatalities.

The wildfires Australia faced destroyed thousands of wildlife species and devastated an enormous amount of land. Another large wildfire in Australia was the 1939 Black Friday Bushfire in Victoria State, burning about 4.9 million acres and taking 71 lives.

The Peshtigo Wildfire is recorded as the deadliest fire in all U.S. history, causing between 1152 and 2500 deaths. The fire took place the same day as the Great Chicago Fire and two other relatively large fires. Because of this, it was not given much media coverage at the time.

The world’s deadliest wildfire was the Great Black Dragon Fire that occurred in northeast china and the USSR. The fire burned over 3 million acres in China and over 18 million acres in the USSR, killing over 200 people and leaving over 250 injured and homeless. 

Wildfire statistics by state

Wildfire statistics by state in 2020 differed but all saw an increase in usual numbers. California wildfires in particular saw some devastating statistics in 2020.

There were 9,279 fire incidents in California spanning 4,197,628 total acres as of December 3rd, 2020. California wildfire statistics showed at least 31 fatalities and 10,488 structures that were destroyed or severely damaged. Five of California’s greatest fires since 1932 burned in 2020 including the SCU Lightning Complex Fire, the August Complex Fire, and the Creek Fire.

In Colorado, almost 700,000 acres burned during 2020, counting the three largest fires in the state’s history. 

All in all, 2020 was a record year in wildfire occurrences with nearly 58,520 wildfires burning 10.3 million acres of land. In comparison to 2019, 2020 had 6,523 more recorded wildfires.