You are here: Home / Research Topics / Research Highlights / Individual Highlight

Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Why Have smoking-caused wildfires declined in frequency

Photo of Wildfire in Georgia. Jen Kolb, J Kolb PhotographyWildfire in Georgia. Jen Kolb, J Kolb PhotographySnapshot : The number of wildfires caused by smoking has declined by 90 percent on national forests since 1980, yet little is known about why, when most other causes have not declined so precipitously. Collaborative research between the Forest Service scientists and the National Institute of Standards and Technology indicates that one-tenth of the decline is attributable to the reduction in adult smoking rates, one-fourth to the emergence of less fire prone "fire-safe" cigarettes, while nearly half is likely due to improved wildfire investigation methods.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Prestemon, Jeffrey P.  
Research Location : Gaithersburg, Maryland
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2014
Highlight ID : 733


Wildfires classified as being caused by smoking materials has undergone a steady decline over the past three decades that, until now, was not fully understood. Statistical models developed by researchers at the Forest Service and the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that a small but statistically significant share was due to the decline in adult smoking rates. But nearly one-quarter of the decline was due to the introduction of self-extinguishing cigarettes, now required in all 50 states. The size of the effect of less fire-prone cigarettes was unexpected, given that the technology was designed to reduce smoking fatalities in residences. Finally, wildfire investigation training emerged as the single largest reason for the decline in fires attributable to smoking materials. The improved accuracy in fire classification means that wildfire prevention specialists can better target their messages at the causes most likely to yield the biggest gains in unwanted fires on our public and private lands.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Dr. David T. Butry and Douglas Thomas, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Commerce, Gaithersburg, Maryland

Program Areas