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Study Notes


AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Wildfires are unwanted wild land fires. They are known as bushfires in Australia and brushfires in America.

They tend to occur most frequently in hot areas where there is extended periods of drought. Strong winds cause fires to spread more quickly.

Causes of wildfires

There are natural and human causes of wildfires but 90% of wildfires are caused by humans.

Natural causes

  • Lightning is the biggest natural cause of wildfires.
  • Spontaneous heating is where leaves and branches on the ground are heated to the point at which it catches fire without a spark.
  • Volcanic eruptions produce hot lava and ash which can ignite a fire. Steep slopes can then lead to the fire spreading quickly.

Human causes

  • Arson where fires are started deliberately.
  • Children playing with matches
  • Electricity pylons falling down in high winds.
  • BBQ's and campfires that have not been extinguished properly
  • Broken bottles acting as a magnifying glass
  • Sparks from train wheels and machinery
  • Discarded cigarettes
  • Slash and burn farming techniques

Effects of wildfires


  • Loss of life and injury to people and animals
  • Destruction of property and possessions (this is an increasing problem as more people live in the rural urban fringe)
  • Loss of vegetation and crops
  • Smoke


  • Homelessness
  • Health problems from the inhalation of smoke
  • Loss of animal habitats
  • Increased soil erosion as vegetation is no longer there to bind the soil together
  • Insurance premiums rise
  • Loss of jobs and income for agricultural workers who lose crops or livestock
  • Access to recreational areas is restricted

Preventing Wildfires

  • Remove dead leaves and branches in areas prone to wildfires.
  • Organise controlled burning to remove fuel.
  • Educate the public to reduce the human causes of wildfires.

Stopping wildfires once they have started

  • Firefighters spray the fire with water and foam
  • Organise air drops of water and fire retardant chemicals from planes to put out fires in inaccessible areas
  • Spray ahead of wildfires to prevent the fire spreading
  • Create fire breaks by removing a line of vegetation or digging a trench to stop the fire spreading.
  • Back burning is where areas ahead of the fire and deliberately burnt in a controlled way to remove the fires fuel supply

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