U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Fire Science Brief, Issue 66, September 2009


US government work.


Eastern forests are lush, humid and dominated by hardwoods, relative to fire-prone forests of the West. But until recently, there was little clear evidence for the fi re history of central Appalachia. Specifi cally, there were no tree-ring chronologies depicting fi re history. Dr. Henri Grissino-Mayer of the University of Tennessee and Dr. Charles Lafon of Texas A&M University along with their colleagues found remnant pine stands hidden in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests of Virginia. They painstakingly acquired more than 600 pine cross sections, and discovered that not only did fire once occur in these forests, but it was very common. Fire mostly stopped in the early 1930s, in close conjunction with the establishment of National Forests in the area. Current stand structure, they found, is closely linked to fire history and the relative lack of fire over the last hundred years. Pine and pine-oak stands may disappear without restorative fire. And burgeoning shrub communities—especially mountain laurels that serve as ladder fuel— contribute to increase the risk of severe wildfire.