Number of Factors Contribute to Increased Wildfires in Southeastern States

Some estimates report that the U.S. spends roughly $2 billion on termite prevention annually, but even more money is spent on pest control away from the home. While termites are well-known destroyers of home structures, causing extremely dangerous living conditions, they, along with the woolly adelgid, have become increasingly destructive in the Southeastern U.S., and have worsened the conditions conducive to wildfires.

The Forest Service reports that wildfires have scorched 1.4 million acres in the Southern states this year, nearly double the area in 2015. Exceedingly hot and dry conditions, as well as the attraction of pests, have created a hotspot for wildfires, and are becoming increasingly worrisome.

“The Southeast has had droughts and a significant amount of wildfires, but [this year] is significantly more than average,” according to Jeff Prestemon, project leader of the forestry sciences lab at the Forest Service’s Southern Research Station. “We can’t attribute a particular event to climate change, but we may have more of these events in the future.”

This year’s record-breaking heat has caused significant drought Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi, affecting 24.2 million people. Greenville, North Carolina; Huntsville, Alabama; and Atlanta, Georgia were also affected this year, racking up their warmest six-month span in history from June to November. According to the Southeast Regional Climate Center, this region has only received between 30-70% of its average rainfall for this time of year, with less than 15 inches of rainfall since the spring.

Since hurricane season has passed and the south has inched into its driest period of the year, it’s unlikely that much rain will relieve the drought. With La Niña taking place and cooler oceanic temperatures affect our weather patterns, drought conditions could prevail and become even more problematic.

What makes wildfires even more dangerous in this area is that there is a much more concentrated population. Woodland areas are more populous in the Southern states than any other region nationwide, which poses immense risk. Late last month, a wildfire began at Chimney Tops mountain in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and spread several miles to the city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

The fire killed 14 people, injured about 150 people, destroyed 2,400 properties, and caused nearly 14,000 people to evacuate the city.

Two juveniles were later charged with aggravated arson, and are being held in the Sevier County Juvenile Detention Center.