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The Decline in Reported Smoking-Caused Wildfires



David T. Butry, Jeffrey P. Prestemon, Douglas S. Thomas


The number of smoking-caused wildfires has been falling nationwide. On national forests in 2011, smoking-caused wildfires represented only 10 % of their 1980 level. No other cause of wildfire has experienced this level of decline. Using U.S. Forest Service data for 12 states, we evaluate the rate of smoking-caused wildfires as a function of weather, other human-caused ignitions, the number of adult smokers, the presence of improved detection methods, and whether a state required the sale of fire-safe cigarettes. We find the decline is partly explained by the reduction of adult smokers, improved wildfire cause detection training, and the use of ‘fire-safe’ cigarettes. While improved detection methods do not reduce the number of wildfires, they ensure that the causes of wildfire are accurately tracked. The finding that fire-safe cigarettes appear successful at limiting wildfire starts—by 20 %—is a likely unintended consequence of a technology aimed at reducing fire fatalities in residences. We also find that the improvements in wildfire cause detection has resulted in a reduction in smoking classified fires by 44 %. The decline in adult smoking rates has led to an overall reduction in the numbers of smoking-caused fires by 9 %.
International Journal of Wildland Fire


wildland-urban interface, economics, prevention


Butry, D. , Prestemon, J. and Thomas, D. (2014), The Decline in Reported Smoking-Caused Wildfires, International Journal of Wildland Fire (Accessed December 5, 2023)
Created June 21, 2014, Updated April 18, 2017