Most U.S. wildfires caused by humans •

Last update: January 24th, 2021 at 8:00 am

Today’s Image of the Day comes thanks to the NASA Earth Observatory and illustrates a recent University of Colorado study that found that 84% of wildfires that occurred between 1992 and 2012 were caused by humans. Discarded cigarettes, unattended campfires, power lines, and arson were the most common ways that these fires were started.

The study, led by Jennifer Balch and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed 1.6 million wildfires from the U.S. Forest Service database. As seen in the map, almost all fires in southern California and the southeast were started by humans. Most fires in the Rocky Mountains and southwest, however, were caused by lightning.

The study also reports that human-ignited wildfires tripled the length of the natural forest fire season.

“Ignitions caused by human activities are a substantial driver of overall fire risk to ecosystems and economies,” said Balch. “Actions to raise awareness and increase management in regions prone to human-started wildfires should be a focus of the United States policy to reduce fire risk and associated hazards.”

The study was sponsored by NASA’s Terrestrial Ecology Program, the Joint Fire Science Program, and the Grand Challenge Earth Lab at the University of Colorado.

By Rory Arnold, Staff Writer

Source: NASA Earth Observatory, University of Colorado, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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