Does climate change cause wildfires?

June 12, 2022

No, but it contributes to their size, length and intensity.

Wildfires are overwhelmingly ignited by people. 85 percent of the time, fires are started by people through burning debris, unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes, use and malfunction of equipment and arson. A smaller number of fires are naturally occurring, started most often by lightning. While naturally occurring fires burn more acreage (56%), human-started wildfires spread faster, burn hotter and destroy more trees.

But, climate change contributes to wildfire size and intensity. Rising temperatures (both daytime and nighttime) and changes to precipitation create more fuel for fires and conditions that allow fires to grow larger, last longer and become more intense.

Key Takeaways

  1. 1.

    85 percent of wildfires are ignited by the activities of people.

  2. 2.

    Human-started wildfires are more destructive than those started by lightning or other natural occurrences.

  3. 3.

    Wildfires are becoming larger, more intense and longer lasting because of climate change.