Study sheds more light on link between Independence Day and wildfires
In our region, the 4th of July is well known as a risky day for wildfires. Now, researchers have painted a more detailed picture of the relationship between the holiday and fire starts.
“The single highest number of wildfire ignitions occurs on the 4th of July,” said Richard Vachula, an assistant professor at Auburn University.
He’s the lead author on a recent paper that analyzed the relationship between the holiday and ignitions. A graph of fire starts from 1980 through 2016 included in it shows that date towering over the rest of the year.
Researchers found the West has one of the highest concentrations of blazes started by fireworks, and more than three-quarters of those near Independence Day occurred on tribal land. The day of the week on which the holiday falls also matters.
“Be it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, you know, any day of the week,” Vachula said. “That ends up having a major influence on both the number of ignitions that occur, but also the distribution pattern in the two-week period encompassing the 4th of July.”
When the holiday falls on a weekend there seems to be a dampening effect on the number of wildfires – a finding that surprised Vachula. He said the data could help firefighters better prepare for this busy time of year.
The paper also notes that “given the rising costs of wildfire management and suppression, curtailing this ignition source seems a very actionable means of reducing costs.”
Over the 37 years of data analyzed in the paper, 11,294 wildfire starts were attributed to fireworks, nearly two-thirds of which occurred on or within a week of Independence Day.
Vachula said, “We know that fireworks are hazardous in numerous ways, both for human health in terms of air quality and then the potential for wildfire ignitions. I think we should maybe take a more critical look at how easy it is to buy them as well as if we can impose restrictions on access. I don't think that would be a bad thing.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.