Emergency Preparedness: Facts About Wildfires

Learn the facts about wildfires and what you can do to help prevent them and be better prepared for them.

Unless you live in an area where the risk of wildfires are high, you may not be very knowledgeable about wildfires. We’ve collected facts and statistics to help provide a better understanding of what causes wildfires – and what damage they do every year. Fully understanding wildfires can help you have a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan should you ever be faced with the threat of wildfire.

Did You Know? Wildfires can generate their own weather conditions. Known as firestorms, these fire systems can generate gale force winds as well as their own rain, lightning and even tornadoes. 

Wildfire Facts

There are more than 100,000 wildfires every year.

These fires will clear 4 – 5 million acres of land and cost the U.S. over one billion dollars to fight. 90% of all wildfires in the U.S. are caused by human activity like unattended and abandoned campfires, irresponsible burning of debris and discarding lit cigarettes. Do your part to prevent wildfires and practice fire awareness whether camping or in your own backyard.

Lightning strikes (along with lava) are responsible for 10% of all wildfires in the U.S.

And wildfires are capable of moving as fast as 14 mph on the ground and their sparks can be carried  for miles by warm winds. Regardless of where you live, if the weather and conditions are right, a wildfire may threaten your family and home so you need to be ready. Make sure your emergency preparedness plan is complete and you know what to do before a wildfire.

Firefighters refer to the heat, fuel and oxygen as the “fire triangle”.

Firefighters deprive wildfires of one or more of these fundamental conditions to combat them. Water dousing and fire retardant is used to smother and extinguish existing fires. Vegetation is cleared to create ‘firebreaks’ around the fire to remove fuel and starve the fire to slow or prevent its spread. Controlled burns, when fires are deliberately set to burn away undergrowth and brush, are used by firefighters to prevent wildfires from occurring.

Most wildfires occur in the West. Heat, drought and thunderstorms create ideal conditions.

Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and California experience some of the worst wildfires in the U.S. In California, fires spread quickly over great distances with the assistance of the hot Santa Ana winds, capable of carrying a spark for miles. Having a home security system with a monitored smoke and heat sensor can provide additional peace of mind and an extra level of safety by alerting you of a smoke or fire threat even when you are far away. You can read our home security system reviews to learn more about adding monitored smoke and heat detection to your home.

Wildfires play an important role in nature and are extremely beneficial.

They return nutrients to the soil by burning dead or decaying matter and protect health trees and plants by removing diseased plants and harmful insects. By burning through thick canopies and brushy undergrowth, wildfires allow sunlight to reach the forest floor, enabling a new generation of seedlings to grow.

Did You Know? The 747 Supertanker is an aerial firefighting airplane capable of carrying up to 19,600 gallons of water for 4,000 miles and is the largest aerial firefighting aircraft in the world.

If you would like to learn more about wildfires and what you can do to help, visit American Forests, the oldest national nonprofit conservation organization in the country. To learn more about what to do in the event of a wildfire and make sure your emergency preparedness plan is complete, read our article on emergency preparedness before, during and after a wildfire.

We also recommend you visit and visit Ready.gov to participate in National Preparedness Month.

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