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There is usually a great deal of media coverage of fires in the forests of United States. In the summer these stories are confined to the west and during the fall and spring the east has its opportunity to be covered.

Many ask the question, "Why do these fires appear in these regional areas only during specific times of the year?" The over riding answer to the question is weather conditions. The major player of the weather is humidity. During the summer months humidity is extremely low in the western sections of the United States. Here in Kentucky and in other areas east of the Mississippi, humidity is being "pumped" up from the Gulf of Mexico. As the eastern section of the country enters into the fall months, this pattern will change, humidity levels drop and fire occurrence increases.

Humidity does not start fires, it only provides the conditions for forest fires to occur. In the western section of the United States lightening is the leading cause of those fires. Many times they have lightening without the occurrence of rain. In Kentucky and other eastern states the leading cause is arson.

The resulting damage of forest fires is also different in the two sections of the United States. Western fires are being fueled by very explosive dry coniferous trees and ground cover. These trees contain very volatile fuels from the top of the tree to the bottom. The fires are usually spread quickly by high winds created by the intensity of the fires and the geography (chimney effect) of the area. Usually after a fire in these areas, the entire tree has been consumed. These types of forest fires (canopy fires) produce a very dramatic media frenzy.

Compare all of this to the eastern half of the United States fires. The majority of the fuels are leaves and branches that have accumulated on the ground after fall color change. The fires do not become as intense and tend to spread at a slower pace since they are not traveling from crown to crown. Usually the tree is not killed during these fires. Because the tree does not die and again leaves out in the following spring, many people feel that there is no lasting affect of the fire on the tree. All too wrong! These fires (ground fires) have generated enough heat to create a basal wound that will scar over and will also create lasting internal damage throughout the entire life of the tree. This damage will lower the eventual total dollar value of the tree at the time of the sale.

Yes the western trees have in many cases been totally lost due to a fire, but regeneration will begin immediately. Eastern fires lower the value of the tree. Since the tree will not die and will remains standing for possibly a century or more, these trees will keep any future tree production from becoming established on the area.

As the fires in western United States become contained and become less numerous during the latter portion of the summer, the potential for forest fires in Kentucky will begin to increase.

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