What Causes A Wildfire?

Wildfires can be caused by a variety of human or natural reasons.
Wildfires can be caused by a variety of human or natural reasons.

A wildfire is a fire that breaks out in an area having combustible vegetation. Such fires are classified as bushfires, forest fires, desert fires, peat fires, etc., depending on the location and the type of vegetation involved. Once a wildfire begins it can spread quickly in the right conditions with the largest wildfires causing mass destruction and death. Both human activities and natural events can cause wildfires as mentioned below:

Human-Induced Wildfires

Human activities are responsible for the majority of wildfire incidents. Some examples of such activities include:

Shifting Cultivation/Slash and Burn Farming

Certain agricultural practices like the slash and burn method or shifting agriculture involve the intentional lighting of wildfires by humans. Such fires are lit to clear the land of vegetation so that cultivation can be carried out in the cleared space. As the land becomes infertile due to over-farming or other improper farming practices, the people shift to newer locations where they can carry repeat the act.


A significant number of wildfires are caused by the intentional act of people to gain something out of the disaster. Such an act is called arson. For example, people might set fire to their own property to gain money from insurance. Such fires could become uncontrollable and destroy large areas of forestland and farmland.

Cigarette Butts

The careless attitude of a cigarette smoker can claim the lives of hundreds to thousands of animals and plants as well as humans. Cast-away cigarette butts that are still burning are one of the top causes of wildfires. It is very important for smokers to behave responsibly to ensure that a negligence on their part does not cause an adverse impact on the environment.


Fireworks displays must be held at safe locations. Often, an irresponsible act by an amateur person can lead to devastating consequences. If there is even a little chance that fireworks might start a wildfire at a particular venue, the activity must be avoided.

Irresponsible Logging Activities

Clearance of forest land for logging purposes can encourage the dominance of flammable gases. Also, logging roads that have been abandoned might be populated by such vegetation and act as fire corridors.


Camping is a fun outdoor activity and campfires are an integral part of this activity. However, when such fires are not properly doused, they might lead to wildfires. Thus, it is recommended that campfires are lit in areas where the land is clear of vegetation. After the need for the fire is over, it must be completely put off with water.

Machinery or Equipment Generated Fires

Fires might start from machinery or automobiles located near forest land. Such fires can spread quickly and engulf large areas. Automobile accidents or airplane crashes can also lead to devastating fires. Hence, firefighters are immediately sent to an accident spot to ensure a fire does not break-out or spread.

Burning Debris

Often the fires started to burn debris at a waste yard might spread into farms or forests with the help of strong winds where it can lead to a deadly wildfire. Thus, it is extremely important to carefully monitor such fires to ensure that sparks do not fly out and land elsewhere where a fire can break-out.

Natural Causes of Wildfires

Often, nature may also play an important role in triggering a wildfire. Some of the natural causes of such fires include:

Dry Lightning

Dry lightning is one of the common natural causes of wildfires. There is no precipitation during this type of lightning. When lightning strikes a tree, it can produce a spark that can start a fire.

Dry Climate/Drought

Dry climatic conditions or drought can lead to wildfires. During this time, there is little moisture in the air and on the ground, and the vegetation also dries up. Thus, the conditions are ideal for starting a fire.

Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanic eruptions are highly destructive. One of the ill-effects of such events includes wildfires. Hot burning lava from a volcano can reach forests to burn down everything. Wildfires caused by volcanic eruptions are thus of catastrophic nature.

Common Causes of Wildfire Vary in Different Parts of the World

The common cause of wildfires is not the same in every part of the world. For example, lightning strikes serve as the major cause of wildfires in northwest China and Canada. Human activities are the biggest cause of wildfires in parts of Asia, Central America, South America, and Africa. Both human and natural causes serve as the common reason of wildfires in Australia and North America.


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