How do firefighters determine the cause of a wildfire?

Behind every wildfire is a mystery: How did it start? Was it human-caused? And, if so, who’s responsible?

The recent Peak 2 Fire in Summit County, CO which forced hundreds of residential evacuations and a $2 million bill for emergency services, was found to be the result of two hikers.

But how is that determined?

“Typically the investigation starts the moment we’re aware of a fire,” said Todd Holzwarth, chief of East Grand Fire Protection District. “Is there any reason we should be having a fire at this point? Is it the Monday after the weekend? Have we had a bunch of lightning the day before? Is it moist or dry out? Is it windy?”

In the event of a wildfire, fire departments immediately get to work to determine the origins of the blaze and the cause. The first step in the process is determining whether the fire was natural or if humans caused it.

Firefighters begin putting together the pieces of how a fire may have started before they are even on scene. By analyzing myriad variables in the area of the fire, officials are able to guess as to whether the fire is human caused or natural.

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