Wildfire in the hills of southern California

Wildfire Facts: What to Know

By the Mercury Team

A wildfire is a large, uncontrolled inferno that burns intensely and quickly spreads through wild landscapes. When these blazes reach civilization, they can destroy homes and put people’s lives in danger. If you live in an area prone to wildfires, it’s important to understand what causes these infernos, how they spread, and the risks they present. Here are some interesting facts about wildfires that you should know.

Facts About Wildfires

Fact #1 — Humans cause nearly 85% of wildfires

While wildfires can start naturally from lightning strikes and spontaneous combustion of dry fuel, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that humans cause nearly 85% of wildfires in the United States. Examples of this activity include leaving campfires unattended, improperly disposing of cigarettes, knocking over powerlines, burning debris, and committing arson.

Fact #2 — Wildfires need heat, fuel, and oxygen to start

Wildfires require three essential components— i.e., the fire triangle — to start and continue:

  • Fuel — Fuel can be any combustible material such as woods, paper, fabrics, and oil.
  • Heat — A heat source such as the sun, a hot bolt of lightning, or a lit cigarette will increase the fuel’s temperature to the point of ignition.
  • Oxygen — Earth’s atmosphere comprises approximately 21% oxygen. Most fires require at least 16% oxygen to burn, so that’s enough to trigger a fire if the other two components are present. When the fuel burns, it reacts with oxygen to release heat and generate combustion products like smoke and embers.

Fact #3 — Dry conditions increase the risk of wildfires

Wildfires thrive in dry, arid climates and drought-ridden locations because these areas are brimming with flammable materials like dead plants and dry vegetation. Additionally, some evergreen trees, like pine trees, have flammable oils that can burn when exposed to heat.

Fact #4 — Wildfires can travel at a rate of up to 14.27 miles per hour

Wildfires need fuel, heat, and oxygen to begin and stay alive, but they require strong winds to spread the flames and cause an inferno of destruction. Once the wildfire begins and spreads, it can travel at a rate of up to 6.7 miles per hour in forests and up to 14.27 miles per hour in grasslands. In 2017, the Thomas Fire in California spread so quickly that it moved at a rate equivalent to a football field per second.

Fact #5 — Nearly one-third of California’s population is at risk of wildfires 

According to data from the U.S. Census, California has approximately 11.2 million people living in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) — the area where houses are in or near wildland vegetation. When the vegetation dries out in the WUI, it puts all those people in the line of a potential wildfire. If you live in the WUI, it’s important to prepare for wildfire season by creating an emergency plan and making your home as fireproof as possible.

Fact #6 — Many ecosystems depend on wildfires for their survival

Wildfires can become catastrophic when they reach the wildland-urban interface. However, naturally occurring wildfires are a normal part of many ecosystems. For example, mature forests and grasslands can get too crowded for new plants to thrive. When a wildfire occurs, it consumes old, dead material and clears away competitive species. The wildfire aftermath enables important nutrients to return to the soil and provides a new, healthy beginning for plants and animals.

Fact #7 — Climate change contributes to wildfires

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States emitted 5,130 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere in 2019. These carbon dioxide emissions trap heat, causing average temperatures around the globe to rise. As a result, droughts are becoming more frequent and lasting longer, which means more heat and drier fuel to trigger combustion and potentially start a wildfire.

Fact #8 — Over 60,000 wildfires occur annually in the U.S.

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), an average of 61,289 wildfires occurred annually in the United States from 2012 to 2021. As a result, these wildfires consumed an average of 7.4 million acres annually.

Whether you live in California or another state where wildfires happen, it’s crucial to protect your family and property when disaster strikes. One of the best ways to get peace of mind during wildfire season is to purchase homeowners insurance from Mercury. We’ll work with you to create a home insurance policy that helps keep you and your family protected during the wildfire season.

Mercury Insurance offers wildfire mitigation discounts to California homeowners living in wildfire prone regions. Homeowners who take one or more steps to harden their homes against wildfires or live in a community recognized by the National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA) as a Firewise USA® site will be eligible to receive discounts of up to 18%. For more information about protecting your family, pets and property from violent and deadly firestorms, read Mercury’s FAQ Guide and visit these websites:


FIRESafe Council

Firewise USA

IBHS Wildfire Prepared Home


Contact us today for a fast, free quote.

Mercury Team

The Mercury Marketing Team is made up of professionals in the fields of Content Creation, Public Relations and Social Media. The team works together to deliver professionally written and researched content to provide information for consumers.

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