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7 Situations that Can Start Dangerous Wildfires

5 min read

How do most wildfires start? According to the National Park Service, humans cause almost 85% of wildfires in the United States. From improperly disposed of cigarettes to dragging tow chains, humans start far more wildfires than weather events like lightning.

Living with wildfires is an unfortunate aspect of life in California. Whether you’re a new resident or a life-long Californian, it’s important to recognize the serious threat wildfires pose to the environment, structures and even the air quality. Learn more about how wildfires start and how you can help reduce the chance of accidentally starting a fire.

1. Burning Debris

Leaving plant litter or dry branches around your property can be a serious hazard in case of a fire. Dry plants like grass, flowers or leaves are the ideal fuel for a fire. Plan to use fire-safe landscaping and remove plant debris regularly to reduce your risk of fire.

When you remove plant debris, however, do not plan to burn it. Burning dry foliage and other debris can cause a wildfire right in your backyard. All it takes is one spark or ember to get away from you and a fire could start. Instead of burning yard debris, look for a local yard-debris pickup service that will collect it. You may even have this service available for an extra fee from your current garbage service.

2. Cigarettes

One improperly disposed of cigarette could lead to thousands of acres of burned land, structure damage, and potential injuries. Put out cigarettes completely if you’re smoking. If possible, avoid smoking in outdoor areas that are prone to wildfires, such as state parks or national forests.

Always be sure to check local smoking restrictions before lighting a cigarette. In many national parks and forests, smoking is restricted during times of high fire risk.

3. Sparking Power Lines

How did California wildfires start in recent years? Although mostly human-caused, power lines, in particular, are to blame for the Camp Fire of 2018 — the deadliest wildfire recorded in California.

While you may not have control over a power line, you should keep an eye on any near your home. If you hear unexpected noises or see sparks, contact the power company and fire department right away. Being alert and catching a malfunctioning power line early could prevent a devastating wildfire from starting.

4. Explosives — Fireworks, Gender Reveals, Exploding Targets

Recreational explosives like fireworks or exploding shooting targets can be a fun way to pass the time, but the entertainment is often not worth the risk. Any exploding device can lead to a wildfire. Fireworks, for example, send fiery debris into the air. Once lit, you don’t have control over where that debris lands. A single ember could start a wildfire that winds up destroying thousands of acres.

Exploding targets and devices can also malfunction and cause a wildfire. In September 2020, an exploding device intended for a gender reveal malfunctioned and sparked the El Dorado fire. The fire burned over 22,000 acres, destroyed five homes and even took the life of a wildfire firefighter. The couple who started the fire may face criminal charges.

5. Vehicle Sparks

Just as an exploding target or device can malfunction, the combustion engine in your car, truck, or off-road vehicle can potentially malfunction and cause a fire. If your engine is in disrepair or you haven’t followed proper maintenance on your vehicle, sparks or extremely hot debris from the engine could fall to the ground and start a fire.

Always keep your vehicles in good condition by following suggested maintenance schedules. If you’re venturing off-road or parking in a non-paved area, avoid tall grasses and look for a dirt spot rather than one on vegetation.

6. Dragging Chains

Do you have a boat, travel trailer, or utility trailer and tow vehicle? Your towing safety chains can become a hazard if not properly fitted. Tow chains are a backup safety device that catches trailers if the hitch fails and the trailer detaches from the tow vehicle.

If your tow chains are too long, however, they can scrape against road pavement and cause sparks. These sparks can easily reach dry vegetation along the road, potentially starting a wildfire.

7. Campfires

Campfires are one of the most enjoyable parts of summer and fall. Who doesn’t love sitting around a campfire with friends, making s’mores and enjoying one another’s company?

Unfortunately, campfires are also an easy way to start a wildfire. Follow these steps to reduce your chance of starting a wildfire from your campfire:

Protecting Your Home When California Wildfires Start

How do wildfires start? In most cases, humans are the cause — whether directly or indirectly — of wildfires. Once a fire starts, dry and windy conditions can make it almost impossible to stop. If you live in an area prone to wildfires, you should protect your home and property by planning before a wildfire emergency.

Create a wildfire evacuation plan and make sure your family knows what to do if you’re ordered to evacuate due to fire. When creating your plan, be sure to review your homeowners insurance coverage to make sure your belongings are covered.

Make sure your home is covered in case of a wildfire by getting in touch with your Wawanesa agent and discussing your homeowners or renters insurance policy today.

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The above content is for informational purposes only and is not a direct representation of coverages offered by Wawanesa or its policies. The information does not refer to any specific contract of insurance and does not modify any definitions, provisions, exclusions or limitations expressly stated in any contracts of insurance. All references within the above content are illustrative and may not apply to your situation. The terms and conditions of the actual insurance policy or policies involved in a claim are determinative as to whether an accident or other loss is covered. To understand the coverage under your current policy, please log into the account management platform to review your policy or contact an agent directly.

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