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Should we send the bill for wildfires to those who accidentally start them?

Party pyrotechnics are said to have started the California blazes, which will cost millions of dollars to put out.

The wildfires that are currently burning across California have already claimed 20 lived, razed over 5,000 buildings, evacuated thousands of people from their home, and turned the sky an apocalyptic orange. Many of its costs will be immeasurable - the damage to the environment, the ill health caused by inhaling the smoke, the grief of families who lost their home or loved ones, the loss of beautiful recreational areas and national parks. Even the costs we can measure are likely to be whopping: putting out the fire, compensating victims and rebuilding will almost certiantly add up to many millions of dollars.

Some would like to see this bill placed at the door of the individual blamed for starting the fire - a family member at a gender-reveal party, who lit some pyrotechnics that were supposed to give off blue or pink smoke but instead set the area ablaze. There is a precedent for this. In 2017, another gender-reveal party caused a huge wildfire. The dad-to-be was prosecuted in court and committed to paying $220,000 of the $8 million cost of putting out the fire. Because such a large sum of money is difficult for most people to get hold of instantly, the fine will largely be paid by taking $500 off his monthly salary for the next 20 years.

Such fines therefore result in a substantial hit to their payee's long-term finances, and will hit harder for those who were less well-off to begin with. But many people consider asking people to be financially culpable for the irresponsible choices they make a fair type of justice, as well as a deterrent to anyone else thinking of playing with fire during the dry season.

However, some think that the individuals in cases like this are being scapegoated. They point out that wildfires are happening with increasing frequency and severity in places like California because of climate change, and that that is something which our entire society - and particularly the governments which run it - bear responsibility for.

Read our explainer on: individual choices and environmental damage.

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