November 22, 1999 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Lately, forest fires in eastern Kentucky have been dominating television news, newspapers, radio news, etc.

"People may wonder why all the fuss concerning today's forest fires when year after year Kentucky's forests have burned," said Doug McLaren, Extension forestry specialist in the UK College of Agriculture. "Particularly, they wonder this, knowing these fires may burn the same areas but the areas will again ‘green out' in the spring and the trees continue to grow."

The real issue with forest fires in Kentucky is the future dollar value lost in the trees by the land owner. The fires burning in Kentucky proceed up a hill and will burn much of the leaf and ground litter.

Sometimes photos don't give the viewer a true picture of what's going on and how much economic damage a fire actually is doing.

"People are having to bend over and take pictures of small flames that are burning nothing more than leaf litter," McLaren said. "Sometimes pictures are a from a distance and you see nothing but smoke coming up through the trees on the hill side."

For someone to get a more realistic view of a fire, they need to see it from the tops of hills so they can watch a fire move up slope that is being pushed and fueled by heated winds and drier fuels near the tops of hills. From this angle, often the flames are more spectacular, but also more dangerous because of the speed at which they move.

On a slope, this litter will collect on the uphill side of a tree. The fire, as it proceeds up the hill, will intensify around these areas of a tree and burn hotter. This heat will increase the internal heat of the tree to a point it will create a point of infection for the individual tree. May times the fire will not kill the tree, only create these infection openings on the uphill side of the tree. The result of this infection will create rot in the tree near the base in future years. This rot will extend upward in the tree based on the intensity and duration of the fire.

"The best pictures during a fire season in Kentucky are ones taken with the camera aimed down slope to reveal the damage that has been created by the recent fires," McLaren suggested. "If there is history of fires in any one stand, you will be able to see cavities on the uphill side of the trees. Some large enough to stand in."

This is why Kentucky foresters make all the fuss about forest fires. And the landowners should too. They might be able to sell their timber in the year to come, however, the value of the timber will be greatly diminished if a logger finds evidence of fire in a stand, even decades after a fire, even into the next millennium.


Writer: Aimee D. Heald 606-257-9764

Source: Doug McLaren 606-257-2703