Spatial patterns of fire occurrence in the central Appalachian mountains and implications for wildland fire management
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We investigated spatial variations in the incidence of anthropogenic and natural (lightning-ignited) fire in the central Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and West Virginia using a record of wildland fires that occurred on federal lands between 1970 and 2003. A consideration of spatial variability in wildland fire is important for allocating fire-suppression resources and for informing resource managers who use naturally ignited wildland fires or prescribed fires in ecological restoration efforts and fuel reduction treatments. The central Appalachian region contains three physiographic provinces with distinct climate, terrain, and vegetation characteristics. Comparing ignition density, maximum fire size, and fire cycle among the three provinces indicated that the Appalachian Plateau - the westernmost province and also the highest, coolest, and wettest of the three - was the least fire-prone environment. The Blue Ridge province along the eastern edge of the region was most fire prone. The Ridge and Valley province, which occupies the center of the region, generally was intermediate in fire characteristics, despite having the driest climate and the greatest extent of flammable pine (Pinus L.)-and oak (Quercus L.)-dominated forests. At a finer spatial scale, fire activity varied topographically in all three provinces: ignition density declined with increasing elevation, but showed weaker, less consistent relationships to aspect. Spatial variations in the importance of natural fires may be of particular interest to federal resource managers who are developing plans for permitting natural fires to burn to restore fire-associated ecosystems. The Blue Ridge appears to be a particularly favorable environment for natural ignitions. Copyright 2007 by V. H. Winston & Son, Inc. All rights reserved.