Our Northwest

Humans, not lightning, cause most wildfires

Wednesday, June 24, 2015by  Jon Osterberg

A recent Seattle Times infographic confirms it: most Washington wildfires are caused by people, not lightning.
     The “people” category includes arson, campfire, children, debris burning, equipment use, fireworks, and smoking. The Times graph cited local, state, federal, and National Forest Service data compiled between 1992-2013.
     Out of 30,195 wildfires, people caused 13,117, or 43%. Lightning caused 8,738 fires, or 29%.
     That surprises some people. In April last year, PEMCO commissioned FBK Research of Seattle to conduct focus groups in Cle Elum, Leavenworth, and Chelan as part of our “Don’t Get Burned!” wildfire-prevention campaign. Among the questions asked: “How do you think most wildfires start?”
     Nearly six out of ten people – 58% – said lightning. Only 41% blamed humans.
     When told the correct answer is that people start the most wildfires, respondents in all three communities firmly disagreed. Many stubbornly said that statistic “isn’t true in Eastern Washington,” that lightning causes the most fires.
     With a statewide drought and the snowpack already gone, fire officials across the region have banned fires and urged citizens to save their personal fireworks for Christmas and New Year’s.
     Makes sense. Especially with the usually soggy Olympic Peninsula – you know, home to the Olympic rain forests – enduring a 950-acre blaze, the Paradise Fire near Port Angeles.

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