The short answer is: It depends where you are.
People cause 90% of wildfires, with lightning accounting for the remaining 10%. A shifting climate and people moving into wildland areas have combined to extend fire season throughout spring, summer and fall.
But if you stop reading there, you miss part of the story. Of total acreage burned, people account for only 44%, typically in wetter areas where firefighters have a better chance of quickly stopping the fire's spread (think grass fires along the freeway). Lightning-sparked blazes consume 56% of land scarred by wildfire. That's because, even though they're vastly outnumbered by human-caused wildfires, they're usually much bigger. Lightning fires tend to occur in mountainous areas where access is limited, dry fuel is plentiful and officials may have the option to let a fire burn itself out.
How you can cut down that 90%
Whether eastsider or westsider, urban or rural, people who follow these six tips can significantly reduce human-caused wildfires, and the destruction, heartache and potential liability they bring:
- Mind your campfire. Stick to designated fire pits surrounded by an eight- to 10-foot circle of bare dirt to tame errant sparks. Don't build a fire under overhanging branches, and keep fires no bigger than two feet across and two feet high. Before leaving your campfire, drown it with water, stirring the ashes to ensure no hidden embers linger. Never burn during a burn ban.
- Heed burning and permit restrictions. Both Washington and Oregon restrict what and where you can burn outdoors (in Washington, it's mostly limited to firewood and vegetation cleared from the property). See the Washington Department of Natural Resources and Oregon.gov websites.
- Never toss aside burning cigarettes without crushing them out.
- Avoid using equipment around fuel sources. Sparks from a saw, welding torch or your car's hot exhaust system could, for example, set off a grass fire.
- Leave fireworks to the professionals. Even if you're not lighting them yourself, prepare your property with these tips.
- Create defensible space around your property. You not only protect your own home, but you slow the fire's spread into neighboring areas.