Know These 6 Causes of Forest Fires

Firefighters conduct mop-up work during the 2014 San Juan Fire on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. | Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Unattended campfires get a lot of the blame for starting wildfires. And they should, especially in Arizona. The Wallow Fire, the biggest fire in our state's recorded history, started when two cousins didn't properly extinguish their campfire. It went on to burn more than half a million acres in Arizona and New Mexico.

So, yes, campfire safety is important. But as The Arizona Republic reported last week, officials want you to know that plenty of other things can cause wildfires — especially when you get out of the high country and into the desert.

Safety chains hanging from trailers is one of those causes, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman told The Republic. Those chains can throw sparks when they hit the ground, and the BLM says that often starts brush fires along Interstate 17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff. Flat tires on trailers can do the same thing, and the BLM said one vehicle in April started 18 different fires when a trailer tire went flat and the exposed rim touched the pavement.

A hot vehicle pulling off the road can ignite dry grass underneath it, too. And engaging in target practice, if you're shooting at something metal that can throw sparks, might start a blaze as well. The BLM notes that tracer rounds and exploding targets, two other common fire causes, are illegal on public lands.

Finally, it should go without saying that embers from a cigarette butt flicked out a car window can easily start a fire in dry grassland. And, again, campfires cause devastating blazes, too, so douse your campfire with water and stir it, then make sure it's cool to the touch. As both the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service note: If it's too hot to touch, it's too hot to leave.


What about trucks without spark arrests starting fires? I recently heard this is the main cause of roadside fires.

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