From Smoke Signals To Legal Arguments: The Evolution Of Wildfire Litigation

By Barsha Bhattacharya

August 26, 2023

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Wildfires have been an occurrence from the times when forests first existed. As civilizations progressed, their perspective toward fire has undergone a significant transformation. What was once viewed as a natural phenomenon or an act of divine power is now increasingly associated with human negligence and reckless behavior.

Consequently, there has been a rise in litigation cases as individuals seek compensation for damages caused by wildfires. A wildfire lawyer is especially adept at helping individuals affected by such disasters navigate the legal procedures for the redressal of grievances. A recent major wildfire in Texas has prompted people to seek legal help for the Smokehouse Creek Fire to help get answers and advice about how to proceed.

Attitudes Towards Fire In Ancient Times

Ancient Greeks believed that fire was brought to humanity by Prometheus, and this gift played a role in transitioning humankind from its early existence to the civilization of today. However, they also recognized the dangers of handling fire, considering it a task meant only for gods.

The Romans had a good relationship with wildfires. They extensively utilized fire as a weapon during warfare and were fully aware of its hazards when not properly controlled. Native Americans also offer insights into the perception of wildfires since they actively engaged in controlled burning practices for centuries until these traditions were suppressed by settlers.

Deadliest Wildfires Of All Times

Till now, one of the deadliest wildfires that have snatched the lives of 100 innocents mercilessly is the U.S. wildfire in Hawaii. But is that all? Absolutely not. Here is a list of some deadly wildfires of all time that originated in various places across the globe:

1. 2009 Australian Fire

It was a black Saturday when, in the Victoria State of Australia, more than 173 people died. On 7 February 2009, Australia experienced the worst bushfire of all time, where more than 2,000 habitats were destroyed. 

2. 2007 and 2018 Fires In Greece

Greece encountered a traumatic experience in 2007 where it kept burling for 12 days straight. Sixty-seven individuals were killed, and more than 800 homes were destroyed all across the Peloponnese peninsula. 

Further, the country once again experienced wildfire in 2018, where 103 people had to give up on their breath. The latter took place across Mati’s coastal town near Athens. 

3. 2021 & 2022 Algerian Fire

Greece fires were calming down, only to discover that Algeria was burning next. Three years later, 90 people died in a wildfire that originated in parts of Algeria. Arsonists and a blazing heatwave were to be blamed for the same. 

Next, in 2022’s August, a massive wildfire ended up killing 37 people for several days. The fire took place in Northeastern El Tarf province, which has close proximities to Tunisia. 

4. 2018’s Deadly USA Fire

Well, Greece was not the only one burning in 2018. On the 8th of November, California experienced another deadly wildfire in Paradise town. It lies 240 kilometers to the extreme north of San Fransico. 

When investigated, it was found that high-tension wires of electricity caused the blazing fire. 

5. 2017’s Portugal Fire

Lastly, there is another deadly wildfire in the history of Portugal, which broke out in June 2017. Almost 63 people got trapped in the fire along with their cars, which got worse when they started burning hills. Areas encompassing Spain also had to experience the viscous fire.

Early Legal Frameworks Concerning Wildfires

Legal frameworks earlier had no explicit recognition of human responsibility regarding wildfires.

Instead of relying on courts or tribunals for justice, ancient communities focused on learning how to handle and contain fires to prevent them from spreading. Eventually, lawmakers established a framework that held individuals responsible if their actions contributed to forest damage, property loss, or endangered lives. However, not all states in the US adopted laws at the time.

As industrialization progressed throughout the century, countries like Germany faced challenges due to unsafe industrial processes emitting excessive smoke onto nearby properties and fields. In response, they enacted formalized laws specifically addressing wildfires.

In recent times, legislation has been introduced to protect individuals who unintentionally start wildfires. For example, California’s Forest Fires Liability Act of 1931 (FFLA) limits liability for those involved in controlled efforts aimed at containing fires.

With advancements in technology, it has become easier today to hold people accountable for damages caused by wildfires. The collection of evidence plays a major role in proving negligence.

However, there are considerations that lawyers must be mindful of when dealing with wildfire litigation. This includes statutes related to the disposal of materials that can easily ignite from something small, such as a cigarette butt or matchstick.

This intricate network of practice calls for professionals who can effectively and fairly navigate these statutes across various states in the U.S.

More and more individuals and communities impacted by wildfires are resorting to legal action to seek compensation for property damage and lost earnings caused by firefighting efforts. As global warming drives up temperatures worldwide, it is anticipated that we will witness a rise in cases over time.

One potential approach to establish liability standards in these lawsuits is through judge-made law. However, it is crucial to strike a balance, as an improper approach could inadvertently encourage such behavior.

For instance, California’s Prop 65 mandates a warning label on medications containing Acetaminophen even though proper usage of this drug has never been proven to cause harm. This highlights the shortcomings of situations where this law is applied.


Fires have always been a societal occurrence. However, due to activities that rapidly alter ecosystems through negligence or irresponsibility, conflicts related to fires will continue making their way into courtrooms around the world.

This trend is expected to increase in number over time. Addressing these issues requires experienced lawyers who utilize tools and techniques while working within established frameworks.

It also raises questions about which behaviors should be considered unlawful in jurisdictions globally when it comes to fire practices and negligent actions warranting punitive measures. We can draw insights from the experiences of survivors to ensure the development of specific legal frameworks aimed at safeguarding society, similar to how criminal activity is controlled.

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Barsha Bhattacharya

Barsha Bhattacharya is a senior content writing executive. As a marketing enthusiast and professional for the past 4 years, writing is new to Barsha. And she is loving every bit of it. Her niches are marketing, lifestyle, wellness, travel and entertainment. Apart from writing, Barsha loves to travel, binge-watch, research conspiracy theories, Instagram and overthink.

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