As reported by this article in the New York Times.
LOS ANGELES — In the summer of 1965, Johnny Cash was living in the wilderness of Southern California when — possibly high on drugs — he sparked a wildfire with his overheated truck that blazed through more than 500 acres and threatened the lives of endangered condors.
When asked by a judge if he started the fire, he said, “my truck did, and it’s dead, so you can’t question it.” (Mr. Cash ended up settling the case for $82,000, or about a half a million in today’s dollars.)
California is experiencing its worst fire season in memory, with one million acres burned so far this year, more than twice the amount in the same period last year — and with each new blaze Californians are asking themselves: How did this happen?
The answer, in Mr. Cash’s time and even more so now, is that destructive wildfires nearly always begin with a human being, either intentionally or by mistake. There are endless ways people start fires — a discarded cigarette, a child playing with matches, a campfire, fireworks, a car accident.
This year, even as firefighters battle one blaze after another across the state, investigators are already finding answers for how some of the fires started.
One began with a spark from a flat tire. Another when someone hammered a fence post amid dry vegetation. Still another was allegedly ignited by a conspiracy-minded recluse who had sent a text message to a local firefighter warning the place “is going to burn.” The suspect, Forrest Gordon Clark, is being held on $1 million bail and faces the possibility of life in prison, after being charged with setting the Holy Fire in Cleveland National Forest in Southern California.
Rising temperatures and prolonged heat waves are also a factor, scientists say. A signal of a shifting climate, they help set up the conditions that lead to more devastating fire seasons.
The Trump administration has rejected the role of climate change, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who recently toured the scenes of California’s wildfires, has blamed the fires on tough environmental laws that limit timber harvesting, calling backers of the measures “environmental terrorist groups.”
Many scientists and experts, however, disagree, and say that climate change plus rapid development in wilderness areas allow for ever more destructive fires. “You’ve got a warming climate and you’ve got more people living in flammable places,” said Jennifer K. Balch, a professor of geography at the University of Colorado at Boulder who has studied the human causes of wildfires. “And we’re literally putting homes in the line of fire, and these are fires that people are starting.”
She continued, “We almost forget it, but wherever people go we bring fire with us.”