Wildfire 101

Wildfire 101


Explore our complete guide to wildfires. Learn what causes them and how to prevent them. Plus, discover campfire safety tips! Learn more!

Wildfires have increasingly become part of the global conversation, especially as climate change exacerbates their frequency and intensity. In this blog post, we'll dive into the details of wildfires – what they are, how they start, how to prevent them, and more. Let's start our journey into the fiery world of wildfires.

How Do Wildfires Start?

Wildfires, also known as forest or wildland fires, are uncontrolled fires that rapidly spread across vegetation and forest areas.1 They can ignite through several means, but the most common include human activities and lighting strikes (2). Human-caused fires can arise from debris burning, campfires, discarded cigarettes, or even intentional arson (3). On the other hand, a lightning strike can cause a spark, especially during periods of extreme heat and dry vegetation. These ignition sources, combined with the right environmental conditions, can quickly escalate into devastating wildfires.

Understanding the Causes of Wildfires

To fully grasp how wildfires start, we need to understand the fire triangle: heat, fuel, and oxygen. Heat, which can come from a lightning strike or an unattended campfire, is necessary to start the initial ignition and maintain the fire. The fuel source, typically dry vegetation like grass, leaves, and trees on the forest floor, feeds the fire. Oxygen, an essential part of our atmosphere, supports the combustion process and allows the fire to continue burning.

Environmental conditions heavily influence wildfire behavior. Dry, windy weather significantly increases the risk of wildfires. This risk becomes more critical during periods of drought, high temperatures, and low humidity, where the vegetation becomes extremely dry and serves as a ready fuel source for any sparks. Additionally, strong, hot winds can carry embers and cause spot fires, leading to a rapid spread of wildfires. 

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Essential Tips to Prevent Wildfires

While wildfires might seem like uncontrollable natural disasters, there's a lot we can do to prevent them. Most wildfires are human-caused, making awareness and responsible behavior vital in fire prevention. Here are some tips:

  • Debris Burning: Before burning any yard waste, check with your local forest service for guidelines on safely burning yard waste. Ensure that any burning debris is entirely extinguished before leaving it unattended. Keeping a water source nearby and a watchful eye on the wind direction can prevent the fire from getting out of control.
  • Properly Dispose of Cigarettes: If you smoke, be responsible. Discarding cigarettes carelessly can ignite dry grass and underbrush. Always properly extinguish and dispose of smoking materials in designated containers.
  • Equipment Maintenance: Equipment like chainsaws or off-road vehicles can create sparks that ignite fires. Regularly maintain and check your equipment to ensure it's functioning correctly and safely. Pay particular attention to parts that can overheat or produce sparks.

Remember, preventing wildfires is not just about abiding by the rules. It's about understanding why these rules exist. It's knowing that under the right conditions, one small spark can lead to a catastrophic wildfire. It's realizing that, as visitors to these natural spaces, we have a responsibility to protect them. Our actions can and do make a difference. Being mindful of this can mean the difference between a beautiful day in nature and a devastating wildfire.

In the face of a changing climate and an increase in human activities in wildland areas, wildfire prevention has never been more critical. The more we understand wildfires and the conditions that cause them, the better prepared we are to take steps to prevent them. So let's stay informed, practice safe behaviors, and help to preserve our precious wildlands for future generations. 

firefighters spray water to wildfire

When Does Wildfire Season Occur?

While wildfires can occur at any time of the year, they are most likely during the wildfire season – a period when conditions are dry and hot, typically between late spring and early fall. The length of the wildfire season and the intensity of fire activity varies geographically. For instance, the wildfire season in east coast areas may be different from the season in the west coast.

In North America, the National Interagency Fire Center provides updates on wildfire risks, helping communities prepare. Climate change has been extending the wildfire season in many areas, leading to more intense and frequent fires (4).

Campfire Safety 101: Enjoying the Outdoors Responsibly

The allure of a crackling campfire is hard to resist, but it's important to enjoy this pastime responsibly. Remember to check the wildfire risk in the area and observe any fire bans or restrictions. Always build your campfire away from overhanging branches, steep slopes, dry grass, and leaves. Keep the fire small and manageable.

Before leaving or going to sleep, extinguish the fire completely. Douse it with water, stir the ashes, and douse again, repeating until everything is cool to the touch. Remember: if it's too hot to touch, it's too hot to leave. If you’re interested in more eco-friendly camping tips, explore our guide to Eco Camping.

Campfire safety

Preventing Wildfires Together

Understanding wildfires is more than a lesson in science; it's a critical part of maintaining and respecting the natural world. By knowing how wildfires start, why they happen, and how we can prevent them, we can all do our part to protect our beautiful and irreplaceable wildlands. As the Canadian wildfires or those devastating ones in Nova Scotia have shown us, it's not just the immediate damage that's a concern – it's the long-term impact on air quality, habitats, and the acceleration of climate change. By respecting the power of fire and acting responsibly, we can help protect our forests for generations to come. Stay informed, stay safe, and remember – only you can prevent wildfires.

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  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/wildfires/
  2. https://earth.org/what-causes-wildfires/ 
  3. https://www.nps.gov/articles/wildfire-causes-and-evaluation.htm
  4. https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-wildfires


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