How and When Did the California Wildfires Start?

As California fights off infernos across the state, many have been left wondering how and when the fires were started.

According to Cal Fire, there are 14 active fire incidents in the state with others now handled by other agencies. The largest fire, August Complex, is burning through 755,603 acres of land and is 30 percent contained.

How did the California wildfires start?

Fires in the U.S. can be a natural occurrence or man-made. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), most fires start from lightning, especially where the ground is dry and easily ignited.

"The majority of these lightning-caused wildfires occur in the absence [of], or very little rain," the NWS website says. "When this occurs, the lightning is commonly referred to as "dry lightning"."

If lightning strikes the ground, the NWS divides into one of two categories—negative and positive strikes. This is determined by the "ionic source region of the thunderstorm," says the website. The organization says that negative strikes are more common than positive—positive strikes "are more intense" than negative ones.

From here, gusty winds help spread the fires while low humidity creates dry air—relative humidity levels are based on the amount of water vapor in the air. According to NWS, thunderstorm winds tend to be erratic when it comes to direction and speed, which can pose a challenge for firefighters battling fires.

According to Cal Fire, the August Complex fire incident in California this was started by lightning.

However, some fires are man-made and are just as deadly as a natural wildfire. Over the years, fire bans have been active during drier summer seasons, but sometimes an accident can trigger the start of an inferno.

The El Dorado fire incident, which is currently burning through 14,478 acres, was caused by a gender reveal party gone wrong. According to a press release by Cal Fire, the fire began on September 5, 2020, at 10:23 a.m. in El Dorado Ranch Park, Yucaipa. A smoke-generating pyrotechnic device caught fire and from there the flames spread from the park to the north onto the Yucaipa Ridge.

Unfortunately, 80 percent of fires are caused by humans, according to CNN, and the firestarters can be held financially and criminally responsible for damages.

As shown from this incident, it only takes a spark to start a fire. During the summer months, where rain is less frequent, small things such as a burning ember from a campfire or even heat from the sun can result in a deadly wildfire.

All a fire needs is fuel—such as dry grass, brush or trees—and plenty of oxygen to start.

For the latest Fire Weather information, visit the NWS website here.

Getty Images California Fire
Fire advances along the Western Divide Highway during the SQF Complex Fire on September 14, 2020 near Camp Nelson, California. The wildfires in California have been both natural occurrences and man-made. David McNew/Getty Images