Some Statistics on Wildfire Causes

by Lindsay Curry
The province seems like it is on fire. Many wildfires are caused by natural causes, such as lightning strikes, but a distressing number continue to be caused by humans and are therefore preventable. In fact, on average, approximately 40 percent of all wildfires are human-caused, according to Ryan Turcot, Information Officer with the BC Wildfire Service. “This year, the BC Wildfire Service has responded to 1,912 wildfires to date – 416 of which (or 22 percent) are believed to be human-caused,” Turcot says.
So how are we causing so many fires? From 2008 to 2017, the BC Wildfire Service has collected statistics on the specific causes of human-caused wildfires. There have been 5,800 such fires during that period, and 23 percent (1,320 fires) were caused by an incendiary device, which includes a broad category of fire-starting items like matches and lighters to flare guns and constructed incendiary devices.
Twenty-two percent of wildfires from 2008 to 2017 (1,266 fires) were started by open fire use, which includes all open burning activities larger than a campfire and includes burn barrels. Another 22 percent (1,277 fires) were caused by campfires, including abandoned and escaped campfires.
Mechanical and equipment caused wildfires account for 12 percent (711 fires), while electrically caused wildfires account for 7 percent (383 fires). Five percent of all wildfires (291 fires) were caused by heat generated from engines or exhaust systems and hot particles expelled from exhaust pipes.
A further five percent (262 fires) were caused by discarded cigarettes and other smoking materials. The statistics, especially regarding campfires and cigarettes, are mind-boggling, considering the public education campaigns and outreach that the BC Wildfire Service carries out. “Seeing as cigarettes can spark wildfires, it is certainly frustrating to hear when people improperly dispose of them despite our pleas not to,” says Turcot.
Finally, the human causes round out with structure, vehicle, and accident fires (four percent or 216 fires), outdoor stove, fireplace, and BBQ fires (one percent or 41 fires), and spontaneous combustion (one percent or 33 fires).
These human causes of wildfire are preventable, with just a little forethought and common sense. If you witness a wildfire or see someone discarding a cigarette or abandoning a campfire (or having one during a ban), call *5555 on a cell phone or 1-800-663-5555. Take care when doing activities that fall into one of these categories, or is otherwise capable of starting a wildfire.
‘Even one human-caused wildfire is one too many,” Turcot states. Certainly 416 of them is beyond too many. And we still have several months of wildfire season yet to come.