Common Causes of Forest Fires

There are two types of disasters commonly associated with the state of California: earthquakes and wildfires. According to the Insurance Information Institute, there were a total of 8,194 wildfires throughout the state of California in 2019, burning a total of 259,148 acres. This made California the state with the highest number of wildfires in the country that year. According to the Verisk Wildfire Risk Analysis, 2,019,800 properties in California were at a high-to-extreme risk from wildfire in 2019.

What puts California at such high risk for large, dangerous wildfires? There are many different factors involved, including hot, dry weather conditions, strong winds, and a growing population. Changes in climate patterns have also led to California’s main fire season starting earlier and ending later than it previously had, now spanning May through October although wildfires can occur at any point in the year. But what are some of the root causes for these fires?

While earthquakes are a natural occurrence, the same can’t be said for wildfires. Wildfires can be caused by many a wide range of things, both natural and manmade. Lightning strikes have been known to cause wildfires, but natural causes only account for a minority of known wildfire causes. Nationwide, 84% of wildfires in the United States are caused by humans and, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 95% of California wildfires were caused by humans as of 2018. 


Some of these numbers for man-made fires include controlled fires started for beneficial purposes, such as to get rid of dry leaves and brush that could provide an uncontrolled wildfire with more fuel to grow. But more often, man-made fires are the result of human negligence. According to data from the U.S. Forest Service and National Interagency Fire Center, campfires have caused 11,463 wildfires in U.S. Forest Service lands since 2006. These types of wildfires are often caused by campers who start fires in unsafe conditions, fail to properly control the fire, or do not adequately extinguish the fire. 


Even though smoking has become increasingly less popular in recent years, cigarettes are causing wildfires. However, cigarette-caused wildfires are much less common than they used to be. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the number of smoking-caused wildfires in national forests were 90% lower in 2011 than they were in 1980. Not only are fewer people smoking, there have been design changes to cigarettes that have made them less likely to start a fire if they aren’t extinguished correctly. 

Faulty Utility Equipment

In California, some of the largest and most destructive wildfires have been caused by problems with things like downed power lines and other electrical equipment. In recent years, wildfires like the Woolsey Fire, Creek Fire, Thomas Fire, and Camp Fire have all been linked to problems with power lines and equipment owned by utility companies like PG&E, LADWP, and SCE. For example, in the case of the Camp Fire, an investigation by Cal Fire found that the transmission tower belonging to PG&E responsible for sparking the fire was nearly 100 years old and a separate report by the Wall Street Journal found PG&E owned many electrical towers that exceeded their average life expectancy. When utility equipment isn’t being properly maintained and replaced, a combination of strong winds and dry conditions can easily result in disaster. The Camp Fire resulted in 84 deaths and is currently considered the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. 

Help if You’ve Been Impacted by a Wildfire

Regardless of what causes a wildfire, we understand how destructive they can be. If you’ve been affected by a wildfire, one of the best things  you can do is get in touch with a wildfire attorney. The Wallace Firm is working with the victims of many major California wildfires, including the Camp Fire, the Thomas Fire, and the Woolsey Fire, to help them get the insurance benefits they need to rebuild. Contact us today for help with your claim.