Disasters Explained: Wildfires

Wildfires burn millions of acres of land every year globally. Find out more about what they are, how they occur, how they spread, and more.

What is a wildfire?


Wildfires are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a natural disaster.

How Do Wildfires Start?

It starts with a ‘spark’. Burning embers from a campfire, lighting, or heat from the sun are all examples of a ‘spark’ that could occur. Even sparks from power tools and machinery could be enough to start a wildfire. For a spark to become a fire, all it needs is oxygen, and something to ignite – like dry grass, brush, or trees.

How Do Wildfires Spread?

Overgrown forests and thick vegetation can help a fire grow rapidly. Drought, winds, and extreme heat can make a fire bigger and spread faster, making it more dangerous.

In British Columbia, wildfires began at the end of a record breaking heat wave where temperatures reached 49.6°C. Currently, there are 180 active wildfires in BC.

The Effects of a Wildfire

Wildfires can rapidly burn millions of acres of land and can destroy everything in their path, from trees, homes, animals, and even humans. Families and whole communities that live in rural, wildfire-prone areas are in danger of losing their homes and having to flee for their own safety. Wildfires also have major health hazards, especially for people with existing breathing problems.

Breathing smoke can cause respiratory issues and coughing, wheezing, and bronchitis. Another threat is carbon monoxide (CO). Inhaling CO reduces oxygen delivery to the body’s organs and tissues and can lead to headaches, nausea, dizziness and even premature death.

Source: American Lung Association

ShelterBox and Wildfires


Wildfires are an incredibly difficult situation for all affected, and it is our job to ensure that any aid we provide will be giving vulnerable families the best possible tools to enable them to recover from the disaster they have faced. Currently, our aid is not the best solution for families in British Columbia. In many developed countries, governments have plans in place to support families affected by disaster with their shelter needs. Families who are unable to stay with friends or relatives are often able to find temporary shelter in hotels. ShelterBox has a robust ‘decision to deploy’ criteria that helps us decide when best to respond to disaster.

ShelterBox is prepared to respond to climate-related disasters. Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns will lead to more extreme drought, and drought conditions can fuel deadly wildfires. In the case of a wildfire in a country that is not able to help residents find temporary shelter, we will be ready to help when we can.

ShelterBox tents are designed to withstand hotter climates and items like water filters can help families clean contaminated water when climate shocks increase water scarcity. Learn more about our tents and our aid items here.

Sources: CNN, National Geographic, Environmental Defense Fund, American Lung Association

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