Causes and Effects of Wildfires

Wildfires are uncontrolled, rapidly spreading, and raging huge flames enhanced with wind action and firebrands that can wipe out an extensive forest or vegetation land area within minutes. Wildfires can even spread to adjacent bushes, agricultural fields, and homes.

The fires can burn on the surface or on the ground, and incidences tend to increase in dry and warm climates. Thousands of wildfires are usually experienced in the United States and other parts of the world every year, claiming more than 10 million acres of land in the history of damaging wildfires.

Wildfires ordinarily start out of accidents, human carelessness, arson, or lighting strike. Wildfires can also be referred to as bush fires, peat fires, grass fires, wildland fires or forest fires.


Here are the causes and effects of wildfires.

Causes of Wildfires

  1. Human Causes

90% of all wildfires are caused by humans. Human acts of carelessness such as leaving campfires unattended and negligent discarding of cigarette butts result in wildfire disasters every year. Accidents, deliberate acts of arson, burning of debris, and fireworks are as well other substantial causes of wildfires. Below are the detailed elaborations of the human causes of wildfires.

Smoking: Smokers at times become negligent at extinguishing the cigarettes butts after smoking. Some may be smoking while cycling, walking, or driving and after finishing they would just throw away the cigarette butt without completely putting it out. This kind of carelessness is what leads to wildfire disasters in many areas as the cigarette butt may end up starting a fire.

Unattended Campfires: Camping is a fascinating experience and I bet most people love camping as a way of connecting with nature and to experience some good time outdoors. However, during camping or outdoor activities people normally leave lit fires or combusting materials unattended to which can ignite wildfires. It is imperative for all lit fires and combusting materials to be totally extinguished after use to avoid wildfire disasters. Choosing safe locations can avoid unnecessary ignition.

Burning Debris: Wastes and trash are on several occasions burned to ashes as a way of reducing the accumulation of rubbish. What is left after burning the waste matter or trash is debris that burns slowly. This slowly burning debris can potentially set anything ablaze and start a wildfire because of the heat.

Fireworks: Fireworks are used by humans for various reasons such as celebrations, sending signals, or illuminating areas. However, their explosive nature can start wildfires. Also, due to their slow burning rate, the remaining pieces can land in unintended places thereby starting a wildfire.

Machinery Accidents: Machinery accidents such as the explosion of gas balloons and car crashes can ignite wildfires. The hot and explosive sparks from machinery accidents or engines can start huge forest or bush fires if the machines are operating within or adjacent to the forest or bush areas respectively.

Arson: Some people may intentionally set fire to destroy land, house or any other property. This act of malicious burning of property makes up about 30% of all wildfire events. As a result, arson has a dramatic effect on the risk of wildfires and can only be avoided if people desist from this kind of wicked behavior. Relevant authorities must be informed as soon as arson acts are witnessed.

  1. Natural Causes

Natural causes account for about 10% of all wildfires. Nevertheless, wildfires occurring as a result of natural causes vary from one region to another depending on the vegetation, weather, climate and topography. There are only two main natural causes which are lightning and volcanic eruptions.

Lightning: Whenever lightning strikes, sparks are produced that can initiate wildfires. The type of lightning associated with wildfires is known as hot lightning. It has less voltage currents but strikes repeatedly for longer periods. As such, fires are normally initiated by the persistent hot lightning bolts that strike rocks, trees, power cables or any other thing that might ignite a fire.

Volcanic eruption: Hot magma in the earth’s crusts is usually expelled out as lava during a volcanic eruption. The hot lava then flows into nearby fields or lands to start wildfires.

Effects of Wildfires

  1. Loss of Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Wildfires destroy the habitats and the intricate relationships of diverse flora and fauna leading to loss of ecosystems and biodiversity. Wildfires simply damage the habitable and adaptable land for specific animal and plant species. It alters or kills the plant life features which support thousands of wildlife thereby forcing the animals out of the regions or even killing them.

Smaller and rare animals including birds, squirrels, insects, rabbits, and snakes are mainly at high risks of death, whereas some plant species are burnt to ashes. Besides, wildfires can even lead to extinction for certain animals.

  1. Forest Degradation

Forest fires such as the ones that commonly happen in dry tropical forests are a major cause of forest degradation. Whenever forest fires are experienced, thousands of acres of trees and vegetation cover are wiped out. Almost every year, forests fires are witnessed across different forest regions which persistently reduce the quality of certain forest features like soil fertility, biodiversity, and ecosystems.

  1. Decline in Air Quality and Air Pollution

Trees and vegetation covers act as purifiers of the air we breathe by absorbing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as well as other air impurities and gives out oxygen. When they are burned down, it means more greenhouse gases increases in the atmosphere, resulting in global warming. Furthermore, huge amounts of smoke and dust are discharged into the atmosphere, causing air pollution.

  1. Soil Degradation

Wildfires cause immediate damage to the earthly environment, the soil, by burning its constituents. As a result, soil loses its fertility and value regarding natural chemical and nutrients compositions. Wildfires also kill beneficial soil microorganisms that are responsible for breaking down the soil and promoting soil microbial activities. The burning of trees and vegetation cover also leaves the soil bare making it readily vulnerable to soil erosion.

  1. Economic Losses

The immediate damages of wildfires are to the soil, wildlife, houses, and almost everything in its way. Millions of money are spent during and after the wildfires to extinguish, rebuild and rehabilitate what has been destroyed.

When such fires spread to agricultural lands, crops and animals are destroyed. Losses are similarly experienced when fires spread to recreational areas. In precise, the economic losses associated with wildfires are immense.

  1. Destruction of Watersheds

Trees and vegetation cover acts as watershed protectors since approximately all the water comes from forest-derived water tables. Whenever they burn, the natural protection systems for water tables, streams, and rivers may be affected.

  1. Impacts to Human Well-being and Health

Wildfires have contributed to some fatalities, especially impacting firefighters and lifesavers. The effect of smoke and dust also causes intense breathing discomfort and can worsen the health of people with allergies and respiratory disorders.

Photo by: skeeze