- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2017

So about 84 percent of the time, it’s true what Smokey Bear says: Only you can prevent wildfires.

That’s the number researchers attribute to human causes of the conflagrations, the Press-Enterprise newspaper of Riverside, California reported Sunday, citing a new study on the matter.

“Scientists analyzing fire data from 1992 to 2012 found that 84 percent of all U.S. wildfires — but only 44 percent of the total acres burned — were started by people, either by accident or on purpose,” the newspaper explained. “And human-caused blazes have more than tripled the length of the wildfire season from 46 days to 154 days, according to a study in Monday’s journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

“People are moving more and more into natural wild areas and essentially providing ignition for wildfires,” concluded study author Jennifer Balch, a geography professor with the University of Colorado-Boulder specializing in fire ecology.

Even so, Mother Nature is doing most of the actual damage. Human-caused wildfires amounted to only 44 percent of acreage burned as tallied by the study, the Press-Enterprise noted.

The disparity between the cause of the fires and the damage inflicted seems to be in line with historical trends and is fairly simple to explain.

As environmental data website EcoWest.org explained in a 2013 post, “Lightning-sparked fires” tend to occur in remote areas and spread quickly before they can be contained, while “human-caused fires start in populated areas and are quickly controlled.”

• Ken Shepherd can be reached at kshepherd@washingtontimes.com.

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