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Fire Ecology, 2007
Volume 3, Issue 2

Patterns in Lightning-caused Fires at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Authors: Dana Cohen, Bob Dellinger, Rob Klein, and Beth Buchanan
Pages: 68-82
DOI: 10.4996/fireecology.0302068

Fires that burn unimpeded behave differently than suppressed or prescribed (management-ignited) fires. Studying this fire behavior increases our understanding of historic fire regimes. Wildland fire use policy allows for managing lightning-caused fires for resource benefit without suppressing them provided specific pre-defined conditions are met. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has managed ten fires under this policy from 1998 to 2006. Data from these fires and data from park fire reports for suppressed lightning-caused fires since 1940 were examined to illustrate patterns for non-anthropogenic fires. Lightning-caused fires occurred most frequently during the growing season and many persisted through numerous precipitation events. Unsuppressed fires had long durations (up to 38 days) and exhibited a wider range of fire behavior than found by previous studies for lightning-caused fires in the region. These unsuppressed fires exhibited the largest perimeter growth in periodic bursts of higher-intensity behavior; yet smoldered and crept through the majority of the active burning window. The total area burned by the ten fires managed under the wildland fire use policy from 1998 to 2006 (787 ha) has surpassed the aggregate within-park acreage of 122 suppressed lightning-caused fi res over the previous 56 years (523 ha).

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