The real damage from a forest fire is rarely obvious. When a tree is exposed to forest fire, the lumber value continues to decline throughout the tree's life span.
Most of Kentucky's wildfires are caused by humans - 99%. Some are accidental such as unmonitored debris burning, campfires, and sparks from farm equipment, but many are intentionally set. Forest fires in Kentucky usually burn close to the ground so they usually don't kill trees. Come springtime, the trees leaf out giving the false impression that the fire did no harm. However forest fires cause trees to continue to lose hardwood lumber value throughout their life spans -- even if there are no obvious, visible signs of damage.
Forest fires create entrances for diseases and insects; staining the wood that could be used for lumber; and cause rot to begin and continue. This means you'll get lower prices when you attempt to sell timber that has been exposed to fire. Foresters and log buyers can detect a past forest fire in a timber stand, even if the area has been fire free for many years.
Keep fires out of your stands to maintain and increase the future value of your timber.
Two fire seasons exist for Kentucky, one in the early spring (mid February to early May) and the other late fall (October through December). Conditions of warm temperatures, low humidity and a leaves on the ground dried by the sun are very conducive to forest fires.
It's important to remember that any land owner found responsible for a fire getting out of hand is accountable for the entire cost of suppressing that fire.
KENTUCKY FOREST FIRE HAZARD SEASON
Along with the change to the spectacular fall colors of Kentucky's hardwoods comes the dreaded fall fire season. The period of time involved begins October 1st and lasts until mid December. Many of us have heard of this "fire season" but have little knowledge or understanding of its importance to the economic value of the trees in Kentucky's forested landscape.
HOW DO FOREST FIRES GET STARTED?
The majority of the fires in Kentucky are intently set by arsonists. Many of the remaining fires are found to be the result of individuals that have been burning trash or leaves and the fires have escaped. Very few, if any, are the result of lightning as is the case in western United States. Kentucky's last bad fire season was 1987 with nearly 300,000 acres burned. The years in between have seen less acres burned due to rain patterns within the fire season.
WHY (AND WHEN) ARE THERE TWO FIRE SEASONS IN KENTUCKY?
In Kentucky there are two fire seasons, fall and spring. This is due to the vast amounts of dry material available to burn on the forest floor as well as the lack of humidity during these two seasons. The lack of leaves on the trees allow the sunlight to enter to the forest floor where it continues to dry the leaf litter.
WHY ARE THE FOREST FIRES IN KENTUCKY NOT "NEWS WORTHY"?
Many Kentucky forest fires have been noted on national and state television programming, but only as a result of the air pollution being created from the smoke. Most of the forest fires in Kentucky are burning ground materials and are not as spectacular as the fires in western and southern United States where the crowns of the conifers are torching adjoining trees and produce a "noteworthy "story.
SINCE ONLY THE MATERIAL ON THE GROUND IS BURNING, WHY ARE THE FOREST FIRES IN KENTUCKY SO IMPORTANT?
The bark on the trees growing in Kentucky, the majority being oak, hickory and yellow-poplar, have very thin "skins" (bark). Even the slightest fire will cause an opening in the base of these trees. With the exposure of inner bark, an entrance court has been created for insects and disease to enter and begin to devalue the wood of the individual stems.
WHY DO TREES THAT HAVE BEEN IN A FOREST FIRE ONE YEAR CONTINUE TO LEAF OUT IN THE FOLLOWING YEARS?
Most forest fires will only damage or kill a small section of the bark at the base of the tree. A tree only needs a small section of the live bark to continue passing the nutrients between the roots and leaves, thus continuing to live and produce a canopy. Fire damage can be seen on many trees that have been affected by forest fires in years past. Many affected trees have large openings where the fire has made an entrance and insects, disease and rot have continued countless years after a fire. Remember, a trees life support is the bark for food movement. The center of the tree is dead wood. Many stands of trees in Kentucky have been in reoccurring fires over the decades. As long as enough bark prevails to provide nutrients and water from the roots to the leaves, a tree will continue to produce leaves in the spring. Many trees can be found in the forest whose diameters at the base are over 30 inches but the entire interior is hollowed out due to past forest fires.
IF THE TREES CONTINUE TO LIVE, WHY ALL THE CONCERN?
Trees of the forest do produce many products, wildlife habitat, watershed management, recreation as well as timber. Many of the uses are not greatly affected by fire as is timber production. As a landowner, it will quickly be determined that if a stand of timber is ever evaluated for a sale, and a fire is evident at anytime during its life, the value of that stand will be greatly reduced. Quite possibly a sale would be canceled due to the existence of fire. Losses can be countless 1000's of dollars.
WHAT ABOUT RAIN OCCURRENCE?
It is not so much the amount of rain Kentucky has had, but when did the rain occur. Many times in Kentucky many of us think that it would never stop raining. Records for rain fall can occur only to be followed by a forest fire. The perfect rain pattern for forest fire prevention would be to see weekly rains during the two fire seasons.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PROTECT KENTUCKY'S FORESTS FROM FIRES?
Be careful if you have to burn during anytime of the year near or in a forest. During forest fire season, there are laws that prevail, one being not to burn closer than 150 feet to a forested area. Also do not burn between the hours of 6 am and 6 pm. Prevent needless forest fires!