Accidentally starting wildfires could lead to jail time

Whether ignited on purpose or accidentally, human-caused wildfires can lead to some serious legal ramifications.

Wildfires are a natural component of many environments. Often ignited by lightning strikes, naturally occurring wildfires help certain areas maintain an ecological balance

However, according to the National Parks Service, only about 15 percent of all wildfires begin naturally, leaving an estimated 85 percent ignited by humans.

Before you walk away from your campfire, flick that cigarette butt or set off fireworks for your gender reveal party, consider this: your carelessness could cost you. 

According to U.S. law, a person who starts a fire on federal lands and fails to put it out before it burns out of control "shall be fined under this title or imprisoned no more than six months, or both."

The penalties, while severe, can also vary by state. 

For example, in California, where about 1.07 million acres have burned so far this year, "unlawfully causing a fire of a structure or forest land is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two or three years, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months, or by a fine, or by both such imprisonment and fine."

The penalties for violating fire restrictions can also vary based on the enforcement agency.

For the Bureau of Indian Affairs, if a violation results in a wildfire, " the violator will also be liable for any and all suppression costs resulting from the wildfire and damage to property and resources." There is also a possibility of criminal charges.

The key is to be careful. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some fire safety tips include checking the fire restrictions for certain forests or ranger districts, use alternatives to campfires and, if you do use a campfire, extinguish the fire to the point where it’s cold to the touch.