5th Symposium on Fire and Forest Meteorology and the 2nd International Wildland Fire Ecology and Fire Management Congress

Thursday, 20 November 2003: 8:30 AM
Reexamining the role of lightning in the landscape of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Dana Cohen, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, TN; and B. Dellinger
Great Smoky Mountains National Park had a policy of suppressing all fires, regardless of ignition source, from its inception in 1934 through the adoption of its fire management policy in 1997. In 1998 the park implemented a wildland fire use policy, allowing lightning-caused fires to burn themselves out providing that they met certain predefined conditions. Fire histories compiled for the time period from 1942 to 1998 show 1,135.6 total in-park acres burned due to lightning-ignited fires. In the four years of selective suppression, 1998 through 2002, in-park acreage for fires begun by lightning totaled 1,048.4 acres, with the largest burning 523 acres.

This study examines the management implications of using suppression data to evaluate a landscape for allowing unplanned ignitions. Lightning fires often burn slowly and with low intensity at their outset, making them easy to suppress while still small. Suppression-era data reflects this, with lightning-caused fires accounting for a low percentage of total fire acreage. Such information has often led land managers to dismiss the role of lightning, and therefore of slow-burning, low intensity fire, within the landscape. By using fire reports, weather data, and geospatial data, we use fire behavior modeling programs to project fire perimeters as if these suppressed lightning fires had been allowed to burn unimpeded. These projections, in addition to the information collected from the recent fires that were allowed to burn themselves out, build the foundation for redefining the historic role of lightning-caused fire in the Southern Appalachian landscape.

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