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New study says humans to blame for most wildfires

Tuesday, February 28, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

man in wooded area tending to his fireDespite the snow that might be lingering in your yard, it's not too early in the year to start thinking about wildfire prevention, now that we know humans spark 84% of U.S. wildfires.

That likely surprises many of you. In April 2014, FBK Research of Seattle conducted research for PEMCO's "Don't Get Burned!" campaign that revealed 58% of residents in fire-prone Kittitas and Chelan counties believe lightning starts most wildfires. Only 41% correctly said people cause most wildfires.

The new study, led by scien​​​​​​tists at the University of Colorado, also revealed that human-caused wildfires accounted for 44% of the total U.S. acres burned from 1992 to 2012.

That's an area seven times greater than the acreage ignited by lightning.

July is a bad month for fire. Statistically, the most-common day for fires sparked by lightning is July 22, the study said. And not surprisingly, the most-common day for human-started fires is July 4. Careless use of fireworks contributes to that, of course.

​At the same time, the study's lead scientist also noted the need for controlled burns in Western states to maintain healthy ecosystems. Without them, fires that inevitably do occur are much larger and harmful.

"We tried the failed experiment for over 100 years of suppressing fire and trying to get fire out, and we didn't win that war," Jennifer Balch told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

smoke-filled sky near a house

Just as humans cause most fires, humans also can limit the damage to their homes and property caused by fire, natural or man-made.

Yet the May 2015 PEMCO Poll found that of Northwest residents who say they live in an area at risk for wildfire, 39% haven't taken the steps they know to be most important for protecting their homes.

If you live in a fire-prone area, called a "wildland-urban interface," the good news is that April is just a month away, and that's the ideal time to take simple Firewise steps to protect your home and property from wildfire.

​Schedule a weekend or two now so that come summer, you don't get burned.

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