Humans Cause Over 95 Percent of California Wildfires

High crimes and celebrations are a few of the ways that residents have sparked a blaze.

Humans Cause Over 95 Percent of California Wildfires

High crimes and celebrations are a few of the ways that residents have sparked a blaze.

A large fire tearing through Holy Jim Canyon in California that has charred more than 6,200 acres so far has a familiar origin. Though not always intentional or criminal, humans are the most common cause of wildfires in the United States.

Earlier this week, a man named Forrest Clark was arrested in connection to the Holy Fire, the name given to a group of several different wildfires that have blazed through forests in southern California. It's the second such arrest this summer.

Last month, a man from Temecula, California, was arrested for starting what eventually grew into the large Cranston Fire.

“The probability of fires is increasing because people are increasing,” Jon Keeley from the U.S. Geological Survey told National Geographic in 2014.

His predictions have proven true year over year as fires have grown deadlier, larger, and more numerous. Last year, one of the largest wildfires tearing through southern California was caused by a downed power line. Illegal campfires can start blazes, like one that began in 2009 and grew to destroy more than 2,700 acres. Everything from items with small sparks like cigarette butts to more ostentatious flames like fireworks have started large fires.

A study published in 2017 in the journal PNAS found that, at the national level, debris burning is responsible for 29 percent of wildfires and arson causes 21 percent of fires. Campfires accounted for just five percent, the study found.

Hot, windy, and dry conditions fueled by California's reoccurring droughts have created a tinder box that people can easily set ablaze. Recognizing the growing danger, the California Fire Department, U.S. Forest Service, and National Park Service created an educational campaign in 2014 called “One Less Spark.” The program outlines ways people can prevent wildfires by correctly burning trash, maintaining campgrounds, towing their cars safely, and properly using outdoor equipment.

While most commonly the culprit, people aren't always to blame for large fires. Wildfires are sometimes caused by lightning strikes or other natural conditions, but the California Fire Department estimates that those factors account for only about 5 percent of the fires started in the state.

In addition to the Holy Fire and Cranston Fire, California is also experiencing the largest fire in the state's history—the Mendocino Complex Fire. Though not the deadliest or most destructive ever seen, it's covering the most ground, having already scorched more than 283,800 acres as of this week. A cause for the Mendocino fire has not yet been disclosed.

As the Holy Fire continues to grow, Clark remains in jail under a $1 million bond. He could face life in state prison if found guilty.