Every year, on average, human-caused wildfires account for approximately half of all wildfires in the United States. Though most of these fires are caused by accidents, many of them can be prevented.
How to Prevent Wildfires
Preventing human-caused wildfires is really quite simple; people just need to be aware of the most common causes and how to prevent a wildfire from starting:
Many people love to go camping and enjoy the warmth and light from a campfire. However, campfires turn into dangerous and costly wildland fires because people leave them unattended, or because people build a fire under a tree or near flammable vegetation. Here are some tips to prevent your campfire from turning into a wildfire:
1) Make sure you don’t overdo it! Campfires can provide plenty of heat and light with only a few small logs. Avoid piling too much fuel on your fire; keep it under control by only adding one or two small logs at a time. You never know when the wind may pick up a spark from your fire and carry it into dry vegetation and then all of a sudden – whoosh – you have an uncontrollable wildfire.
2) If you leave your campsite for any reason, make sure your campfire is completely out! Douse the fire with at least one bucket of water, stir it, then add another bucket of water and stir it again. Your campfire should be cold to the touch before you leave your campsite.
A very significant amount of human-caused wildfires are ignited when people are driving vehicles that haven’t been properly maintained or when people drive off of paved roads. Follow these simple tips to avoid starting a wildfire with your vehicle:
-If you are off-roading, remember that your exhaust can reach temperatures of 1000 + degrees! Driving or parking over dry grass often starts wildfires.
-Vehicles can also shoot sparks from their exhaust, particularly vehicles that haven’t received regular mechanical maintenance, so make sure your vehicle – whether it’s a car, truck, or OHV (off-highway vehicle) – is current on all mechanical checkups and suited for off-road adventures.
-Be prepared - Carry a shovel and a fire extinguisher in your vehicle.
-OHVs must have a spark arrestor, and should carry a shovel at least 24 in long by 6 in wide with a steel blade and a bucket (but a helmet can replace the bucket – or anything that you could use to carry water).
If you’re towing a trailer:
-Make sure your trailer is roadworthy. Broken down trailers start dozens of wildfires each year. Do a simple maintenance check to make sure the tires are not worn and are properly inflated, the bearings and axles have been greased, and safety chains are in place and not dragging on the ground.
-An annual trailer tune-up is usually less than $100.00 - well worth it to protect your investment and prevent a wildfire that could cost you thousands of dollars.
-Don’t overload your trailer. Be sure to check your rear view mirrors often to make sure your trailer has not blown a tire, causing it to drag and throw sparks that can easily start a roadside fire. Believe it or not, the BLM suppresses wildland fires every year that are caused by trailers.
People often burn trash, leaves, agricultural waste or other materials, but it is illegal to burn many things such as plastics, food trash and trade waste, especially on public lands. If you plan to burn on your private property, make sure your burn barrel or burn pile is placed at least 25 feet away from structures or vegetation and follow these simple tips:
1) Have water (such as a garden hose) nearby, and never burn if it’s windy.
2) Once the objective of your burn is completed, be sure to “mop up” the ashes with water and stirring. Wildfires often start from “holdover” debris piles that were not properly extinguished, days or even weeks after they were burned (yes, this does happen; burn piles can still be hot weeks after you’ve finished burning).
3) If using a burn barrel, place a metal screen spark arrester (with openings smaller than ½ inch) on top of the barrel. This will prevent sparks from flying out of your burn barrel into vegetation, where they can ignite a wildfire.
4) If you are burning debris piles, keep your pile small. A smaller burn pile will dispose of materials in the same manner as a very large debris pile.
5) There may be burning restrictions in your area, so contact your local fire department for more information and debris burning tips.
Many people start wildfires using equipment, such as a chainsaw, grinding tools, welding activities, or other equipment that create sparks.
In addition to the above, operator must have fire retardant shield capable of containing all sparks.
The equipment operator should designate one person per cutter/grinder as a fire spotter during operation.
Make sure you never operate equipment that produces sparks near dry vegetation. Always have a cleared area around your workspace. This area should be even larger if it is windy and very dry. Create clearings where all flammables have been removed. The width or radius of the clearing, in order to be effective, will vary with the nature and size by the risk from 10 to 25 feet.
Fireworks are a lot of fun, but when used improperly, they can be dangerous and easily cause wildfires. Follow these tips to prevent injuries and a costly wildfire:
-Check your local federal, state, and city fireworks regulations before using fireworks. Some states, counties and cities have different laws and regulations, so a little bit of research could save you the cost of an improper fireworks use penalty, or worse – the cost of fighting a wildfire.
-Where legal, use fireworks outdoors and in a safe area away from vegetation, fields, grassy areas, and buildings. Use fireworks in parking lots, driveways and gravel or dirt areas.
-Keep a bucket of water, wet towel, and a garden hose nearby. You never know when you might need them!
-Follow fireworks package instructions carefully and use with close adult supervision – never allow children to use fireworks without an adult present.
-Let spent fireworks cool, then soak them in water before disposing of debris.
-Never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks themselves. For example, sparklers, considered by many to be the ideal "safe" firework for the young, burn at very high temperatures and can easily ignite clothing.
-Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks. Never shoot a firework at or near another person.
-Never try to re-light fireworks that have not fully functioned. Douse and soak them with water and throw them away.
-Never ignite fireworks in a container, especially a glass or metal container.
-Store fireworks in a dry, cool place. Check instructions for special storage directions.
-After you finish, clean up all debris. Be sure all unused fireworks, matches and lighters are out of the sight and reach of children.
-Dispose of fireworks properly. Soak them completely in water before putting them in the trash can.