‘Human-caused fires are not malicious’: Human-caused wildfires are preventable, but not necessarily intentional

'Human-caused fires are not malicious': Human-caused wildfires are preventable, but not necessarily intentional
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The Truax Creek wildfire is one of 33 human-caused active wildfires burning in B.C. on May 14, 2024.

In the early spring, Coastal Fire Centre says almost all wildfires are human-caused, but that doesn’t mean they were intentionally set.

Currently in B.C., there are 127 active wildfires and of those with a determined cause, 10 were caused by lightning and 33 by humans.

“When we talk about human-caused wildfires, often folks think of campfires or someone who has tossed a cigarette butt out of a moving vehicle, but there’s a whole variety of activities that can commonly start fires that people should be aware of,” Sam Bellion, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre said.

“So some examples of this would be sparks from ATV or any vehicle, the use of heavy equipment or firearms, binary exploding targets, fireworks really any activity that could cause a spark or hot embers.”

One theory that has gained traction online when it comes to human-caused wildfires is that they were sparked by arsonists, which Craig Ford, the assistant deputy chief with Saanich Fire, says isn’t typically the case.

“Human-caused fires are not malicious, they could be the result from anything: playing, working, an accident, anything that has to do with day-to-day human life,” he said.

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However, Bellion says that all human-caused wildfires are preventable and asks people to use caution, especially given the dry conditions.

One of the challenges posed by human-cause fires is the proximity to where people are.

“Typically a human-caused wildfire is more of an impact to us than say a lightning or natural cause fire,” Ford said.

“And the reason for that is just the proximity to structures and houses, where we work, where we play is where we typically see our human-caused fires and a lot of cases lightning is out in the hills and does really not have the impact on day-to-day life for people.”

Where does this idea come from?

Jaigris Hodson, the Canada research chair for digital communication at Royal Roads University, studies online disinformation and says a lot of conspiracy theories like this come from people wanting a simple answer to a complex issue.

“This is actually, I think, one of the less surprising conspiracy theories, because there’s been a lot of misinformation in the climate space, actually, for many decades,” Hodson said.

“So for some people, that means it psychologically feels easier to deny that climate change exists than to recognize this big problem that is very complex, requires large scale change, and we as individuals are not very empowered to deal with it.”

Hodson says it can seem easier to blame a single person or group of people, rather than looking at the larger root causes.

“We tend to like to individualize complex problems,” Hodson said.

“But by individualizing these complex problems, I think we also then open the door to misinformation that individualizes an individual villain, like, ‘here goes the climate activist getting into the fray,’ when really I think part of the problem with these big complex issues is that there are so many different contributors that there’s no clear villain or hero.”

Wildfire prevention

Keeping the accidental causes of wildfires in mind, fire experts are asking people to use caution as they head into the wilderness as B.C. gets dryer as the weather warms.

“Every time of the year we want people to be Fire Smart and watch for preventable type situations, but they become more of an impact to us when we have these drought-like conditions,” Ford said.

“So it’s becoming more necessary that people are vigilant and really diligent about how they show up in the ecosystem.”

“We’ve got the chance prevent human-caused fires. We can’t do much about Mother Nature and storms, but we do have that opportunity to be really mindful of how we show up and how we are in our community.”

In B.C., wildfires can be reported to 1 800 663-5555 or *5555 from a cell phone, and Ford urges people to call if they see smoke, not to assume that someone else has called it in.

“If we can get the fires when they’re small get control of them when they’re in their infancy. That’s really going to be the key and that’s the piece that the public can really play for us,” he said.

RELATED: Incoming weather will be key to B.C. firefight, Premier Eby says

-With files from CHEK’s Mackenzie Read

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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