Understanding wildfires in Scotland

Find out what a wildfire is, how they start, the impact they have, and how climate change is affecting them.

What is a wildfire?

Wildfires are classified as large, uncontrolled outdoor fires exceeding 1,000 square meters of burned area on appropriate land types.

These fires are unplanned, uncontrolled, and unpredictable, and occur in areas with combustible vegetation that can fuel rapid spread.

a pine trees needles next to a backdrop of a fire enguling trees

Common causes of wildfires

Wildfires are destructive, but did you know most of them are started by human activity? They can be on purpose or by accident. The most common offenders are: 

1. Unattended flames

This includes barbecues, campfires, and bonfires left unattended or not properly extinguished. Even a small spark can ignite dry leaves and brush, leading to a major wildfire.

2. Glass bottles

Sunlight shining through a glass bottle can act like a magnifying glass, focusing heat and igniting dry materials nearby.

3. Controlled burns gone wrong

Planned burns are sometimes used to manage land, but they can spiral out of control if not done properly.

4. Deliberate fire setting

This is sadly a reality, with some people starting fires intentionally. If you see suspicious activity, report it immediately to Police Scotland or Crimestoppers.

5. Careless cigarette disposal

Even a seemingly extinguished cigarette can reignite and spark a fire in dry conditions.

6. Hot and dry weather

Prolonged periods of hot, dry weather create a tinderbox environment, where even a small spark can easily ignite a wildfire.

7. Cold, dry, and sunny weather

Believe it or not, cold, dry days with strong sunshine can also be risky. The combination of low humidity and strong winds can quickly dry out vegetation and fuel wildfires.

How wildfires impact Scotland

Wildfires are a growing problem in Scotland. They have a huge impact on property, infrastructure, the environment, and the economy.   

These fires place a huge drain on our resources that might be required at another emergency. They pose a significant threat to the safety of our firefighters and to members of our communities.  

Wildfires put a strain our resources and can potentially hinder our ability to respond to other emergencies. They also pose a danger the safety of both firefighters and the communities they protect.

Climate change and wildfires

Climate change is playing a major role in making these destructive fires even more dangerous. The period where wildfires can happen is extending from Spring into Summer. 

Weather conditions are a big factor in determining how much a wildfire spreads. Strong winds, extreme temperatures or low rainfall can all leave trees, shrubs, fallen leaves, and grass, dry and primed to fuel a fire. 

Related content

How to report wildfires

Guide to reporting wildfires if you are outdoors or at home, and how to report suspicious behaviour

Wildfire prevention

Learn essential wildfire prevention, preparedness, and controlled burning guidance.

Our wildfire strategy

Learn about our wildfire strategy for preventing and dealing with wildfires in Scotland.