Wildfire Prevention

In 2016, wildfires ignited by humans burned over 200,000 acres in Arizona and New Mexico. People start wildfires with their campfires, vehicles, cigarette butts, fireworks, powerlines, debris burning, arson, and other activities. In especially dry years like this one, we need to build awareness of how people start wildfires to protect our communities, forests, wildlife, and water. A new study from the Forest Stewards Guild in collaboration with the Forest Trust titled Increasing Wildfire Awareness and Reducing Human-Caused Ignitions in Northern New Mexico, details how people start wildfires, common locations of human-caused wildfires, existing public awareness campaigns, and current investments in public awareness of wildfire prevention. Since human ignitions are preventable, raising education and awareness can reduce the number of large, severe wildfires in New Mexico.

Read a summary of the report here.

The report highlights the devastating impact of wildfires started by abandon campfires. Abandoned campfires account for 44% of the human caused wildfires since 2001. At the same time, research shows that campfires are particularly important to people recreating in the forest and campfire bans have limited effectiveness. Electrical power lines are another significant cause of wildfires. In New Mexico, three major wildfires in the last decade were all caused by electrical lines, including the Las Conchas fire, which cost more than one billion dollars. 

The tremendous cost of large, high-severity wildfires justifies much greater investment in prevention. No single solution will prevent all human-caused ignitions, but incremental steps can make a difference. More knowledge about the spatial patterns of these ignitions presents the opportunity for targeted outreach and education, which is a cost-effective way to reduce wildfire impacts. For example, in New Mexico 80% of wildfires started by campfires are within a quarter mile of a road. Another opportunity is to increase the integration of prevention messaging in programs such as Firewise and Fire Adapted Communities that focus on protecting communities. Linking human-caused ignitions to the risk residents face could build a strong group of advocates for wildfire prevention and reduce the high costs of wildfire.