U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Fire Science Brief, Issue 117, July 2010


US government work.


With the limited knowledge previously available about the types of fuels, and how they are distributed in the southern Appalachian Mountains, managers have faced diffi culties in developing fi re plans for the region, including whether or where to apply prescribed fi re. For this study, the scientists took a two phase approach to determine fuel loads on the land—by ground surveys, and by remote sensing technology using hyperspectral images. Examining over 1,000 study plots in diverse topographic locations affected by various disturbances (or no disturbance) across four states, the researchers found few differences in undisturbed plots regardless of topographic location. This means that fuel accumulation is no greater on highly productive sites than on less productive sites. Problem fuels such as the shrubs mountain laurel and rhododendron were not as common as the researchers anticipated, and may be a concern in only limited areas. Disturbance history and type played a greater role in determining fuel loads than topographic location. Fire decreased some fuels while beetle attack, harvesting, and windthrow increased most fuels. The second phase of the study used remote sensing and the Strom Thurmond Institute Hyperspectral Library to detect and map rhododendron and mountain laurel under the thick canopy found in the region, helping the scientists see into vast areas and remote terrain.