What causes a wildfire?

Since it’s wildfire season here in the Colorado Rockies, we’ve recently been discussing wildfire awareness on our blog. To better understand wildfires, perhaps we should take a look into the very causes of wildfires.


So, what does cause wildfires?

Basically, wildfires have two main causes: by natural means of ignition, and by ignitions caused by humans. The natural wildfire causes are primarily by lightning, especially here in the high country of Colorado, as well as by volcanic lava. (Fun fact: did you know the last volcanic activity in Colorado was near Dotsero, which occurred roughly 4,000 years ago?)

Naturally caused wildfires, however, only account for a small fraction of wildfires. The vast majority of wildfires – some 90% – are caused by human activity. So what sorts of human activities can cause wildfires?

One of the main human causes of wildfires is campfires. Campers may leave a campfire unattended and sparks or wind can cause the fire to spread. Campers may also simply build too large a fire, which can quickly grow out of control, especially in the dry summer climates of the Mountain West.

Another problematic cause of wildfires is the negligent discarding of cigarette butts. Folks may throw a cigarette to the ground while it’s still smoldering, the heat from which is more than enough to ignite dry grasses or shrubs. If you smoke, remember to only discard your cigarette after it’s been completely extinguished, and either way, don’t litter!

Cigarette butt isolated

Controlled or prescribed burns are yet another potential cause of wildfires. Controlled burns are used for forest management, farming, ranching, and habitat restoration. Unfortunately, some of these controlled burns have the potential to grow out of control. Always be mindful of conditions, check current regulations, and consult your local fire department before conducting a controlled burn. Avoid burning especially if it’s particularly hot, dry, and/or windy.

The final human cause of wildfires is arson. This is a crime! Arson, or the intentional starting of fires, has the potential to wreak havoc on lives and properties alike. If you ever know of or suspect arson, report the activity to authorities immediately.

Unfortunately, wildfires that are naturally caused by lightning or lava can be difficult to prevent. Fortunately though, the primary cause of wildfires – human activity – can be prevented. Always be mindful of fire safety, from enjoying a campfire to smoking a cigarette.

Of course, if a fire does strike, the results can be catastrophic. That’s where we at RMCat come in – we can help mitigate and restore home and property damage caused by fires. Or floods. Or even mold. We’re on call 24/7 to help you night or day as well. So if you experience a home catastrophe, call 911 right away. After you call 911, call us at Rocky Mountain Catastrophe, and we can be on the scene in Grand or Routt Counties in as little as 30 minutes to help.

To contact Rocky Mountain Catastrophe, call 970-722-7744 or email [email protected].

For 24/7 emergency service, call us in Grand County at 970-531-7308 or in Routt County at 970-819.1239. We are here to help!

Click here for more info at nps.gov.