U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Fire Science Brief, Issue 91, February 2010


US government work


North Carolina is divided into three broad physiographic regions, from the low-lying Atlantic Coastal Plain, to the midelevation foothills—the Piedmont Plateau—to the higher elevation Blue Ridge and Appalachian zone. Understanding the behavior of fire in these widely different regions, as in much of the southeastern United States, presents challenges that differ sharply from those common in the West, where the emphasis on fire science research has been greater. An ambitious project has helped fill in local and regional knowledge gaps, as researchers gathered data and assessed the relevance and limitations of existing tools, including remote satellite sensing, weather station information, fire behavior models, and drought indices commonly used to make management decisions. This study focused on pocosin swamp ecosystems of the Coastal Plain, longleaf pine plantations of the Piedmont/Sandhills and Coastal Plains, and rhododendron and laurel communities in mixed hardwood forests of the Appalachian Mountains. Over a three-plus year time period, data were collected on a number of parameters: live foliar moisture, dead woody fuels, moisture content of litter and duff, and soil moisture content. In the pocosin systems with deep organic soils, the researchers also measured root mat moisture, muck, and water table depth. Results suggest that existing fire behavior tools and predictive models need to be modified to better fit regional and local conditions. In addition, interpretation of the data collected needs to be fine tuned to better reflect conditions specific to local systems, especially for the poorly understood contribution of live fuel moisture and soil moisture content to fire behavior.