Wildfires: Causes and Effects

Wildfires, also called bush fires, forest fires, grass fires, etc., are unwanted and unplanned fires that occur in the wild. Depending on what type of vegetation is being burned the fire’s name may change. Due to the fact that wildfires are unpredictable they are especially dangerous. With temperatures reaching more than two-thousand degrees Fahrenheit and flames that can reach up to fifty meters high these wildfires can drastically change the environment. They spread fast, damage or kill the surrounding wildlife, and can even change the entire ecosystem in the effected area. It’s important to know the causes of these fires as well as the effects they may have.


Wildfires are most commonly caused by humans. It is approximated that nearly 90% of all forest fires can be traced back to human error.

Smoking: Studies have shown that smoking is the leading cause of forest fires. Whether it’s deliberate or not the ashes from a cigarette butt can be the direct cause of a forest fire. It’s common for people to toss their cigarette butt out of their car window or throw it on the ground after they are done. When cigarettes are not completely extinguished it can directly lead to a forest fire. This is pure negligence. You wouldn’t throw a burning candle into the street would you? You must properly dispose of your cigarettes. If a still lit butt finds its way to dried leaves or grass, small branches, or other flammable materials, it is bound to set those items on fire.

Unattended Campfires: This cause is another example of negligence and human error. If you are going to have a campfire  you must also be aware of how it should be properly put out. It is not okay to just leave a fire to burn out on its own. You must completely drench it with water, or cover it in sand, and be sure there are no more flames or hot coals. In addition, if you are having a campfire in a dry area it may not be safe. The sparks and embers from a fire can travel and can lead to a much larger fire. Between 2006 and 2015 about a third of forest fires were attributed to campfires. Also be aware that during dry months, or times of drought, there may be a burning ban in effect. Always check with your local authorities before having a campfire.

Fireworks: Fireworks are often accompanied by sparks. Did you know that these small sparks can actually start a fire? If you are in an especially dry arid region, or a location that hasn’t seen rain in quite some time, these seemingly tiny sparks can lead to major problems.

Machinery Accidents: There are numerous situations that fall into this category. Old or faulty machinery, such as dryers, refrigerators, extension cords etc., can lead to fires. In addition, car crashes can also lead to forest fires. Even though these situations are not as common they do account for approximately 28,000 fires each year.

Burning Debris: Similarly to unattended campfires, burning debris and trash can lead to much larger problems. It is a common sight, especially in remote areas, for people to burn their trash in order to decrease the amount of rubble piles. However, it can be especially unsafe when burning debris because various items can cause different reactions. Most areas restrict this type of behavior and may even require a permit.

Lightning & Other Natural Causes: Even though most wildfires are caused by humans, either unintentionally or on purpose (arson), there are still many wildfires that can be attributed to natural causes such as lightning. Researchers have discovered that lightning can produce a spark, especially if it hits a power cable, rock, or tree. When lightning produces these sparks it can lead to fires.


Loss of Ecosystem: It may seem like common sense but when fires occur there will always be an impact on the surrounding ecosystems. Plants and animals alike will die in the fire. If enough of a species is killed off in an area it can have a chain reaction to those that benefit from it. For example, if a particular shrub is burnt in a 10 mile radius then the animal that eats the shrub, rabbits and deer perhaps, will also be at risk of dying due to lack of food. If numerous amounts of rabbits die off then their predators will also be impacted. This food chain can consist of a wide variety of plants, animals, and insects and can be vastly changed after a fire. In addition, wildfires may even lead to extinction for a species depending on how drastic the fire is. Some animals are able to detect the oncoming of a wildfire and may migrate elsewhere. Even so, if these animals are safe from the fire that does not mean that they will survive in their new habitat.

Air Pollution: Everyone knows that plant life helps to purify our air. As humans release carbon dioxide, during respiration, plants release oxygen. When plant life is decreased, or even exterminated, by wildfires the air we breathe declines. Greenhouse gases will increase in the surrounding atmosphere and this can lead to climate change and even global warming. In addition, with fire comes smoke. Huge clouds of smoke can lead to severe air pollution,

Forest Degradation: Every year forest fires are partially responsible for the changes in our forests. The change in our landscape not only impacts the topography of the earth but the wildlife population as well.

Economic Loss: You may have watched the news and seen firefighters, or even military, called in to help contain a deadly forest fire. In order to have this help and support from these brave men and women we need funds. It costs money to deploy these necessary forces. It costs money to equip them with the necessary tools and equipment to contain a fire. In addition, after the fire has been put out it may cost local authorities millions of dollars to repair any damage.

Soil Degradation: Soil is filled with valuable organisms and numerous natural features that aid in the successful function of a habitat. If these organisms are killed off due to a fire the surrounding ecosystem will be changed as well. In addition, plant life, such as flowers, shrubs, and trees, all attribute to soil being held in place. The roots of plants help to keep the landscape of an area in its place. If plant life is gone due to a fire then there is a greater risk of land changes. If the soil, and surrounding area, is not being held in place by anything then there is a greater risk of landslides and other disasters.

Impacts Human Health & Well-being: We already know that wildfires contribute to the death of plant life and animals but did you know that humans are also in danger? Firefighters, and other emergency personnel, risk their lives to help contain or extinguish fires each year. They put themselves into life-threatening situations every time they are called upon. Even those who are not directly fighting the fires can be impacted. Smoke inhalation can also cause major health problems as well.

Even though the majority of effects from a wildfire are negative, there are a few positive benefits from a forest fire.

Growth:After an intense fire you are bound to see new growth. With a lack of plant and animal life the landscape will eventually begin to start anew. Some species of trees even have seeds that require heat to open and grow, the Jack pine tree is a great example of this. The seeds from various plants can be found in the ground after a fire and will eventually spring up and begin a new cycle. Also, the ashes from the devastation can actually be a good fertilizer. It may help new plant life to grow and thrive.

It is evident that wildfires not only have numerous causes, but numerous effects as well. Forest fires are no joke. They are a serious issue that we face every single year. Now that you are more aware of the fact that humans are a major cause for these fires you may be a little more cautious about your actions.



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