What causes wildfire

Lightning causes approximately 60% of wildfires in B.C.

What causes wildfires in British Columbia? There are two broad categories of causes: 

  1. Lightning (and a rare chance of other natural causes) causes approximately 60% of wildfires
  2. Human activity causes approximately 40% of wildfires

Natural (lightning) caused wildfires

Most wildfires in B.C. are started by lightning strikes. When lightning strikes an object it can release enough heat to ignite a tree or other fuels. 

Although lightning caused fires cannot be prevented, there are ways of predicting where they might start. The risk from natural fires can also be reduced with fuel management and prescribed burning

Human-caused wildfires

The most important thing about human-caused wildfires is that they are preventable. The easiest way to fight a wildfire is to prevent it from starting. 

Humans start wildfires in several ways, either by accident or intentionally. For example: 

  • Open burning
  • Vehicle and engine use
  • Industrial activity
  • Fireworks, sky-lanterns, outdoor flame lighting
  • Discarding burning items (cigarettes)
  • Arson

Determining wildfire cause

The cause of a wildfire is determined by professional investigations. The BC Wildfire Service employs Fire Origin and Cause Specialists to conduct investigations in accordance with international standards. They may look for:

  • Ignition Sources
  • Burn Patterns
  • Physical Evidence
  • Weather History

Wildfire investigations can be complex and may take weeks or even months to complete.

Frequently asked questions

The most common cause of wildfire in B.C. is lightning. Lightning activity causes approximately 60% of all wildfires every season. 

When a wildfire is determined to be human-caused, Natural Resource Officers investigate to assess whether the incident was the result of illegal activities.

People who undertake illegal activities that cause wildfires could be found liable for wildfire suppression costs, damage to Crown forests and other forest or land resources, fines or administrative penalties and reforestation costs.

The Wildfire Act summarizes wildfire regulation fines

The Wildfire Season Summary shows a list of all wildfires of note with their associated cause. To view the cause of an active fire, click on the fire on the Interactive Map. If the cause states Unknown, then the cause hasn't been determined yet.