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Investigation of the decline in reported smoking-caused wildfires in the USA from 2000 to 2011

David T. Butry A C , Jeffrey P. Prestemon B and Douglas S. Thomas C

A Applied Economics Office, Engineering Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology, 100 Bureau Drive, Mailstop 8603, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8603, USA.
B Forest Economics and Policy Research, Southern Research Station, USDA Forest Science, Forestry Sciences Laboratory, PO Box 12254, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.
C Applied Economics Office, Engineering Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology, 100 Bureau Drive, Mailstop 8603, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8603, USA.
D Corresponding author. Email: david.butry@nist.gov

International Journal of Wildland Fire - http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF13146
Submitted: 3 September 2013  Accepted: 5 May 204   Published online: 21 July 2014


 
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Abstract

The number of smoking-caused wildfires has been falling nationwide. In 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. For 12 states, we evaluate the rate of smoking-caused wildfires and find it is a function of weather, other ignitions, the number of adult smokers, the presence of improved wildfire cause-determination methods, and whether a state required the sale of less fire-prone cigarettes. We find the decline in adult smoking rates has led to a reduction of smoking-caused fires by 9%. The finding that less fire-prone cigarettes appear successful at limiting wildfire starts – by 23% – is a likely unintended benefit of a technology aimed at reducing fire fatalities in residences. We also find that the improvements in wildfire cause determination have resulted in a reduction in smoking-classified fires by 48%. Although improved wildfire cause-determination methods do not necessarily reduce the number of wildfires, they ensure that the causes of wildfire are accurately tracked. Accurate wildfire cause determination can, however, result in targeting wildfire-prevention programs to specific fire-cause categories, which can lead to a reduction in the overall number of wildfires.

Additional keywords: economics, fire-safe cigarettes, fire standard compliant, prevention, wildfire investigation, wildland–urban interface.


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