The vast majority of wildfires are caused by humans. The good news is that most of these fires are started by people who likely had no intention of the blaze getting out of control.

In fact, you’d be surprised how many seemingly common activities can accidentally cause wildfires. We’ll go into more detail about these common wildfire causes in the paragraphs below.

Recipe for a Flame

Before we learn about common wildfire causes, it might help to outline the scientific causes of fire. Three things must exist for a fire to be created: oxygen, heat and fuel.

Fires need oxygen, which is why smothering a fire or pouring water over it often extinguishes it. Fire is based on a constant chemical reaction between the burning material and the oxygen, which enables flames, smoke, heat, and all other products of fire to exist.

Jumping over fuel, because we probably all realize why something that burns is important, let’s talk about heat. Specifically, why is heat necessary for a fire? Why can’t fires occur in freezing temperatures, for instance? Weirdly enough, it’s very possible, depending on the material.

Again, the answer has to do with chemistry. There is a point in most materials called a flash point, where the object begins to release chemicals that react with oxygen to produce a flame. This has to do with temperature because the trigger that causes these chemicals released is how much heat something is exposed to. Even most vehicle fuels have a flashpoint of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

There are a decent amount of materials with flashpoints at or below average outdoor temperatures. These materials are classified as hazardous materials and are generally not available for public use.

Common Wildfire Causes


There have been a lot of wildfires caused by people forgetting to extinguish campfires. If left unattended, a campfire can spread to other flammable materials nearby until a wildfire occurs.

This is especially dangerous in the summer when higher temperatures make fires more likely to be started and less likely for the temperature to drop too much for the fire to sustain itself.


We’ve known for quite a while now that smoking is dangerous, but it can endanger more people than just you. In addition to secondhand smoke, there is also the risk of a burning cigarette sitting on the ground and igniting something.

Car Trouble

We’ve probably all seen an action movie where a car blows up or catches fire. Thankfully, we don’t live in an action movie, but it is possible for cars to suffer some sort of mechanical trouble that could cause a fire. Something as simple as an oil leak or even having a flat tire.

Burning Debris

The phrase ‘burning debris’ brings to mind images of broken objects being lit on fire, but it’s usually much more subtle than that. Oftentimes, it’s the burning of leaves in the Fall. A lot of people think of burning leaves as being easier than raking them.

Oftentimes, these fires can get out of hand and result in a wildfire.

Wildfires and How Not to Start Them

Most wildfires are started by humans, and there are a lot of things that can serve as a catalyst.  Unattended campfires, leaf burnings and smoking are considered common wildfire causes, and there are many others. Anything can burn as long as you have fuel, oxygen and heat.

If you want to know more about homeownership and natural disasters, please visit our site. We can tell you how to recover from fire damage and get your home back on track. We can also give you advice on what to do in case of a flood.