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Factors influencing wildfire occurrence and distribution in eastern Kentucky, USA

by John K. Maingi, Mary C. Henry
International Journal of Wildland Fire ()

Abstract

Most wildfires in Kentucky occur in the heavily forested Appalachian counties in the eastern portion of the state. In the present study, we reconstructed a brief fire history of eastern Kentucky using Landsat Thematic Mapper and Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus images acquired between 1985 and 2002. We then examined relationships between fire occurrence and area burned, and abiotic and human factors. Abiotic factors included Palmer Drought Severity Index, slope, aspect, and elevation, and human factors included county unemployment rates, distance to roads, and distance to populated places. Approximately 83% of the total burned area burned only once, 14% twice, and 3% thrice. More fires burned in the winter compared with the fall, but the latter fires were larger on average and accounted for similar to 71% of the total area burned. Fire size was negatively correlated with Palmer Drought Severity Index for certain times of the year. There were significant relationships between elevation and slope and fire occurrence, but not between aspect and fire occurrence. We found links between fire location and proximity to roads and settlements, but we found no correlations between monthly unemployment rates and arson-caused fires.

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