Urban Legends and Fire – A few of the Stranger Ways Fire and Wildfire Have Been Started

Gender reveal parties? Halloween? Hoarding? Glass jars?

Photo credit: nationlife.com

The top leading causes of fire in the United States include heating, cooking, electrical, smoking, candles, arson, and equipment. Home heating equipment leads the way, however, and is the number one leading cause of fires in US homes. Other behavior that increases fire risks include hoarding in structures, particularly homes, which increase the fuel load during a fire. When people hoard, it can create combustibles with items piling up such as magazines and clothing. Hoarding can also block exits from the home making it more difficult to flee a fire or impair first responders from entering.

Fire causes can also vary by region, including areas that are at high risk for wildfire, or rural areas and urban areas that have specific fire risks. In Washington State, the risk of wildfires is growing due to increased forest fuels, and drier forests which are more easily ignited due to warmer, drier conditions in the Western US. We also know that more Americans are moving closer to nature and into fire prone areas.

Seasonal fires can start from summer storms or other environmental causes as well as from summer holiday events and parties. Seasonal events are often a primary time for accidental fires when lightning strikes, or when using fireworks, grilling, or other outdoor entertaining. Summertime is a great time to enjoy vacations, camping, picnics, and holiday celebrations. During this time, remember to keep your grill 10 feet from structures and build your campfires at least 25 feet away from anything that can burn. If you want to stay safe and see fireworks in the summer, go to a public showing put on by experts.  

People with disabilities and older adults are also more prone to fire risks. Fire safety and kitchen safety are the top fire concerns and are the primary places where fires start for people with disabilities (www.ssvfd.org). Watching your stove while cooking, keeping burners clean, and functioning smoke alarms in a kitchen can help everyone stay safe in the kitchen.

What do gender reveal parties and wildfires have in common? A California fire was sparked by a gender reveal party using pyrotechnics, and grew to more than 500 acres in September of 2020. The El Dorado Fire in Southern California’s San Bernadino County east of Los Angeles scorched over 10,574 acres. Evacuations were ordered but no injuries were reported and no structures were damaged. This is not the first time a gender reveal party started a fire. In 2017, an off-duty US Border Patrol shot a high- powered rifle at a target packed with explosives as part of a gender reveal party, and it ignited a fire in Arizona that grew to almost 47,000 acres and caused more than $8 million in damage (cnn.com).

Glass jars can be a leading cause of home fires. When sunlight is refracted through glass, the beam of light can be strong enough to start a fire. When the shape of the glass and the angle of the sun are perfectly situated, a fire will ignite. A fire was started by a jar of Nutella when it was placed on a window sill, and the refracted light then ignited the curtains nearby! (weirdomatic.com).

Storing ammunition in a home can also be dangerous if a fire starts in the home. If the ammunition ignites during a fire, it can make it extremely dangerous for first responders to get inside safely to work on putting out the fire. When ammunition goes off during a fire and they are not contained in a safe manner or approved storage containers and guns are loaded, there is nothing to contain the gun and the direct pressure created by the propellant in a cartridge igniting is like an aerosol can exploding. When firefighters hear a popping noise such as gun fire, they must change their entry tactics and firefighting techniques before entering a home or building.

While enjoying Eastern Washington’s great outdoors, stay on designated roads and trails. Avoid parking on dry brush or grass. Your vehicle’s hot exhaust system can easily ignite dry vegetation. Keep tow chains away from the road and make sure parts of your vehicle, such as the muffler, are not low enough to make contact with the road. Keep a fire extinguisher in your car at all times and make sure your brakes are not overly worn as metal to metal contact can generate sparks and start a roadside fire.


Did you know a lawn mower blade striking a rock can also cause a spark resulting in a wildfire? A backfire can occur when the burning fuel in a lawnmower engine comes out of the engine and into the exhaust system and explodes. Often a backfire starts after the engine of the lawnmower is turned off. Clean and store your lawnmower after each use. One less spark, one less wildfire!


You may not always be able to avoid fire hazards, but with a little planning you can look for fire hazards around your home, family and community, take precautions and safety measures, and eliminate fire risk and create a safer environment for everyone!

More information on reducing your fire risk can be found at








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