What Are the Causes of Wildfires in CA?

Wildfires are a terrifying reality for anyone living in California. Every year, wildfires destroy properties and take lives in the Golden State. In 2018, California experienced the most destructive wildfire season on record: 7,500 fires, 1.7 million acres burned, 93 lives lost and 23,314 structures destroyed. Humans are to blame for some of the worst wildfires in California’s history, including the deadliest and most destructive fires in 2018. It is everyone’s responsibility to prevent wildfires.

Human Activity

The California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection blames most devastating wildfires on human errors and activities. Many Californians underestimate the risk of wildfires when engaged in dangerous activities such as starting bonfires, burning debris or using fireworks. Others negligently cause wildfires through dangerous power lines, gas leaks or worn-down equipment that set off sparks. Human error could easily start a serious wildfire in dry conditions.

  • Arson
  • Burning debris
  • Campfires
  • Equipment use
  • Fireworks
  • Hunting or target shooting
  • Lightning
  • Playing with fire
  • Smoking
  • Vehicles

The Bureau of Land Management has put restrictions in place for citizens of California to prevent wildfires. These restrictions include mandatory campfire permits, recreational target shooting requirements and rules for off-road driving. Despite these rules, however, humans start most major wildfires in California every year. Nearly 85% of all wildfires in the U.S. stem from human activities.

Utility Company Negligence

The deadliest California wildfire in 2018 was the Camp Fire. This wildfire was one of the world’s costliest natural disasters in 2018. It started on November 8th in Butte County and burned until November 25th. Winds drove the flames downhill, destroying developed areas such as Concow and Paradise. The Camp Fire caused 85 confirmed fatalities, with one person still missing.

After an investigation, authorities confirmed the cause of the Camp Fire was a faulty power line under the jurisdiction of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). The power line sparked fires in two separate places on the morning of November 8th. Warm temperatures, dry conditions and strong winds carried the flames south, where they quickly grew out of control. PG&E filed for bankruptcy last January after several law firms brought claims against the utility company for starting wildfires.

Negligent utility companies such as PG&E can cause wildfires by failing to properly inspect and maintain their equipment. Working with gas and electricity comes with certain fire hazards. It is the utility company’s responsibility to mitigate these risks as much as possible through safe, reasonable and prudent practices, such as inspecting and repairing power lines. A breach of this duty could cause a deadly wildfire.

Acts of God

Although humans cause most wildfires in California, other fires stem from acts of God. Lightning striking dry vegetation, for example, could spark a wildfire. In April 2019, lightning struck a national forest in Northern California over 575 times, causing seven small fires. One major fire, the McDonald Fire, burned over 1,000 acres in one day. The cause of this fire was a bolt of lightning. Dry and drought conditions can increase the risk of a wildfire from any cause. As a citizen of California, do your part to prevent wildfires by minimizing your impact. Obey state and county fire restrictions and take fire hazards seriously.

Do You Have a Case?

If a California wildfire caused you a serious injury or destroyed your property, you could have a civil claim against the party or parties that started the fire. PG&E, for example, is facing dozens of lawsuits for starting more than 1,500 wildfires in California since 2014. This utility company may owe billions of dollars to victims for starting some of the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in the state’s history. You could have a case against PG&E, another company, an individual, a property owner, a product manufacturer or another party after a damaging wildfire in California.