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Immediate Relevance of Fire History Research for Understanding Wildfire Risk in the Wildland-Urban Interface
12:00 PM - 12:20 PM
Tue Nov 28, 2017
Citron North


Authors: Henri D Grissino-Mayer; Charles W lafon; Sally P Horn

We have been conducting fire history research using tree-ring and sedimentary charcoal proxy records from southeastern forests since 1993, focusing mainly in the yellow pine and mixed pine hardwood forests of the Appalachian Mountains. Our tree-ring studies have shown that area-wide fires burned about once every 7 years (with a range from 5 to 13 years) from the mid-1700s until the early 1900s. One of the sedimentary charcoal studies that we conducted in soil of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) revealed that fire was a recurring phenomenon there for thousands of years. One major conclusion we have reached is that fire exclusion practices conducted over the past 80 years have caused unprecedented levels of fuels to build up, waiting to be ignited during a drought event. This is exactly what happened on November 23, 2016, when a wildfire broke out in GSMNP. On November 28, fanned by hurricane-force winds, the wildfire blew into two tourism-based communities, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Over 2,400 structures were destroyed and 14 people were killed. We argue that a denser network of fire history sites in the eastern U.S. will provide useful and immediately relevant data for better understanding wildfire risk in the wildland-urban interface.

Henri Grissino-Mayer
Full Professor of Geography, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

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