The Effects of Wildfires on the Environment and How to Prevent Them

In 2017, wildfires burned approximately 10 million acres in the United States, over four million acres more than 2016. The wildfires reported in 2017 number 71,499. Under adverse conditions, these fires spread rapidly and destroy plant life, animals, and homes. They have a massive impact on the environment.

Effects on the Environment

When wildfires burn plant and animal life, it releases greenhouse gases. Other than carbon dioxide, they also emit nitrous oxide and methane gases. This makes up three percent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions from the United States. This may seem small compared to the 28.5 percent of emissions from transportation, but any way that we can reduce emissions helps the environment.

Fires also affect the absorption of carbon into the environment. Dead and decaying plants continue to release carbon, but surrounding plants cannot use it in the process of photosynthesis. It takes much longer for plant life to come back and absorb the carbon from the soil, sometimes decades after a fire to restore the area to the carbon uptake before the devastation.

Wildfires also destroy precious habitats for animals. This can force the ones that survive the fire to migrate to another area, upsetting the ecosystem there. Other parts of the ecosystem may suffer from a larger population consuming other populations more than is sustainable.

Most Wildfires Are Caused by Humans

People cause 90 percent of wildfires, both intentional and unintentional. Over the last 10 years, that has added up to $5.1 billion of losses. It is only a small percentage of fires that are caused by lightning or lava (or any other natural cause). We have to remain vigilant in preventing fires from happening because we do not know how much damage we will do until after it is done, and we cannot adopt the it-will-never-happen-to-me attitude. Any of us can start a wildfire if we are not careful.

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Image Source: Pixabay

How to Prevent Wildfires

Though we have learned many of these tips on how to prevent wildfires time and time again, we need to keep sharing them. Sometimes, people forget and need a reminder. Others simply do not know. We can do our part to make sure we do not cause any more fires.

  • Do not start a fire if it is windy or dry. These conditions make it easy for it to spread.
  • Make sure your campsite does not have a restriction—some areas do not allow fires to be built.
  • Build your fire away from tents, vehicles, low-hanging branches, and other objects that could catch fire.
  • Use an existing fire pit. This will make it more difficult to spread.
  • Keep your fire small so it is more manageable. Do not be overly confident.
  • Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Supervise children and pets that are around the fire.
  • Before leaving a fire, let it burn out completely. You can also drown the coals and mix it with a shovel. It is safe to leave once everything is cool enough to touch.
  • Properly extinguish cigarettes before discarding them.


Please do not cut any corners when it comes to fire safety. Your negligence could mean the life of someone else. If we become lax and do not do our part to prevent wildfires, we will further damage the environment. The percentage of greenhouse gases is already low, so let’s keep it that way. We should care enough about each other to keep each other safe.

Image Source: Pixabay

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Lacey Jolley

I love exploring, experiencing new places, and eating good food! I'm amazed every day at how well the Earth provides for us, and I want to return the favor. I hope to help others learn how we can make our world a better, cleaner place.

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