Monday, June 23, 2008

Still Burning

It looks like the fires in Eastern NC are still burning despite heavy rain over the weekend. From the N&O:

The fire has burned 41,060 acres since a lightning strike June 1. Firefighters have contained 75 percent of the fire, but interior vegetation continues to burn, according to the most recent update issued by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

I have been told that these fires can be difficult to distinguish due to the available peat. For people not familiar with Eastern NC, these areas have a type of wetland call pocosins. Here is an AP photo found on

NASA photo:

John Whitehead over at Environmental Economics have had a couple posts on this fire (here and here). In another interesting read, reprints an N&O article on the fire.

Because of the media attention focused on the giant wildfires of the West each summer, Southern wildfires can be overlooked. We discussed the prevalence of Southern forest fires via e-mail with Toddi A. Steelman, an assistant professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at N.C. State University.

Q: Is the Pocosin Lakes wildfire typical for wildfires in the South?

A: No. It is much larger than a typical fire, and it is occurring on organic soils. This means that the soil actually catches on fire and has the potential to smolder or burn for a long time.

From 1998 to 2007, North Carolina burned, on average, 26,548 acres per year.

Keep in mind that the definition of a "typical" fire is changing. Overall, we are seeing larger fires in both the South and the West.

Eastern North Carolina has numerous fire dependent ecosystems. Pocosins are one such ecosystem. Historically, fire played an important role in these ecosystems by thinning out vegetation, causing vegetation to germinate and flower, and contributing in nutrient cycling. In some cases, however, fires can begin to burn peat soils. This leads to longer and hotter burning fires. This is partially the result of fire suppression and historic land alterations such as draining for agricultural purposes. Similar actions have led to larger fires out west. It is my understanding that climate changes, such as changes in the hydrologic cycle, have also contributed to larger fires.

Some additional reads
Using Fire to Improve Wildlife Habitat (NCSU)
Pocosin Lakes Fact Sheet

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