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Individual Highlight

Fire in the Southern Appalachians: Understanding Impacts, Interventions, and Future Fire Events

Photo of Low-intensity fires such as the one pictured here can be beneficial. However, wildfires such as Chimney Tops 2  can be incredibly destructive, destroying structures, burning hundreds of thousands of acres, and even causing tragic loss of life. 

Low-intensity fires such as the one pictured here can be beneficial. However, wildfires such as Chimney Tops 2  can be incredibly destructive, destroying structures, burning hundreds of thousands of acres, and even causing tragic loss of life.  Snapshot : Of all the documented fires in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, between 1992 to 2017, the Chimney Tops 2 fire accounts for more than half of the total area burned. The Chimney Tops 2 fire was unlike any other in recent decades in the Southern Appalachians. A team of SRS researchers examined wildfire and controlled burns in the Southern Appalachians over this period and explored potential future changes in both. 

Principal Investigators(s) :
Frey, Gregory E.Prestemon, Jeffrey P.
James, Natasha 
Research Location : Southern Appalachian Region
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2020
Highlight ID : 1649

Summary

From October to December of 2016, a confluence of factors led to an outbreak of wildfires across the Southern Appalachians. A team of SRS researchers examined trends in fire across the Southern Appalachian region, including intervention activities and acres burned. The team also projected future fire regimes. Researchers analyzed how controlled burning in the region and area burned from wildfire may change in the future. From all of the documented fires in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park between 1992 and 2017, the Chimney Tops 2 fire accounts for more than 50 %of total acreage burned. In 2016, more than 66 %of the total residential and commercial structures burned in the U.S. were located in Tennessee, where the Chimney Tops 2 fire dominated.  The research team used statistical models to project wildfire area burned by county for the southern U.S. from 2011 through 2060 under a variety of possible population growth, economic growth, land use change, and climate futures. The models predicted that human-induced wildfires would decrease by 80 percent, while lightning-induced wildfires could increase by 236 percent.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Karen Abt (SRS, retired)
  • Xue Han