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More Info on Wildfires
We tend to think of wildfires as purely a negative thing, but wildfires occur naturally in areas around the globe and can help rebalance various ecosystems and forests. Fire helps to provide nutrients to the soil allowing more diverse plant species to grow. Smaller fires don't usually kill many animals at all (Global Fire Monitoring). Problems arise when fires get out of control and too much plant and animal live is lost. Different rates of frequencies of fires within a given area create forests with different levels of underbrush, thus setting conditions for how much fuel an out of control fire could potentially have, were it to occur (Prescribed forest fire frequency should be based on land management goals). The realization that different forests may be more suitable to catastrophic fires because of the normal infrequences of natural fires helps us as humans better prepare for the worse. Not only are large fires a danger to wildlife and people, but the affects on the atmosphere is negative, even for smaller forest fires. Furthermore, because of the current rate of global warming, areas that used to have infrequent fires will transition to having conditions making a fire more likely. There is a balance needed to be found here. Using more controlled burning techniques to thin out forests can help keep the amount of small brush in a forest to a minimum, keeping forest fire fuel relatively low (Extinguishing wildfires may not always be the correct solution).
"Global Fire Monitoring: Why are Fires Important?" Earth Observatiory. Nasa, n.d. Web. <https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/GlobalFire/fire_2.php>.
University of Missouri-Columbia. "Prescribed forest fire frequency should be based on land management goals: 68-year study shows long-term effects of burning forests at frequent intervals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 April 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170418120820.htm>.
University of Royal Holloway London. "Extinguishing wildfires may not always be the correct solution." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 May 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160523084204.htm>.
This webpage was created and organized by
Logan Brett, Matt Isbell, Prichard Norman, and Scott Osteen
Wildfires are a very devastating and frightening thing to happen to anyone. The wildfire that consumed most of the city of Gatlinburg, TN was a rare event and paved a wave of destruction through some of the city’s top attractions and resorts. In this study you will learn how wildfires are becoming more common for the Eastern Appalachian area and the affects this wildfire made on this community.
Climate Change (Prichard Norman)
Wildfires are a very common thing for the west due to the lack of rain and the severe droughts they have had of the past few years but wildfires are becoming more and more common for other parts of this country due to the weather patterns becoming more and more extreme. Sriskandarajah, Sagara, and Martinez (2016) did a study and found that since 1990 8.5 million more homes are in WUI (Wildland-Urban Interface) areas. They believe one reason for that is the border between nature and urban development is always shifting as people are building more homes into the wilderness. According to one report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, “because temperatures and precipitation levels are projected to alter further over the course of this century, the overall potential for wildfires in the United States, especially the southern states, is likely to increase as well.” (Sriskandarajah 2016) More than half of the wildfires that occurred between 1992 and 2013 happened in the southeast states. These fires were most definitely not as large as the ones that occur in the west but they did happen and they were not small. There are only a third of fire departments that are trained to be able to fight wildfires nationally. Based on a study in 2011 from the National Fire Protection Association, most of the fire departments have to rely on state, local, and federal agencies during a wildfire.
The amount of land in the southeast in WUIs is considered striking. The percent of Tennesseans that are in Wildland-Urban Interface is 37%. (Sriskandarajah 2016) This article is saying that the climate is changing and it’s changing in a way that is making our weather hotter and drier, which are perfect ingredients for a wildfire. More and more people are building structures in areas where wildfires are more frequent to happen, and they are building structures in places that don’t have the training and equipment to fight wildfires.
Measuring and Anticipating Economic Effects(Logan Brett)
The authors of recent public literature pertaining to this wildfire and other public disasters focus on the cause of the disasters and economic effects that are measured in long, intermediate, and shorter timeframes. Over the past two decades, climate change has increased the likelihood of wildfires in areas that had rarely if ever been at risk. This has sparked a large interest in researching both short and long-term impacts that reach far beyond the cost of home and public infrastructure loss. “Economic assessment of wildfires can no longer focus only on the more obvious variables, such as acreage burned and number of personnel. Assessment must be comprehensive and include all economic impacts to gain a realistic perspective of the true impact of large wildfires.”(Diaz 2012). For example, in a December Knoxville News Sentinel article that was published shortly after the fires had been extinguished reported that,” Officials estimated at a news conference Tuesday that the cost of damages is around $500 million.”(Jacobs and Ahillen 2016). These damages simply accounted for residential, business and public infrastructure loss but overshadowed the aspects of the disaster that would carry the most weight, which was the immediate decline on the tourism revenue in Sevier County. In March, the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau released the total revenue for the month of December. Comparing these numbers, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported a $19 million dollar deficit compared to the previous year. This amounted to about 40% of total revenue from the previous December.(Ahillen 2017). A hit of that size in a county of enormous economic caliber (historically ranked third in Tennessee for economic impact from tourism) can have repercussions felt on a statewide scale. (Gaines 2016). Displacement of families and workers in such disasters due to long-term job loss can drain state funding to unemployment and also public housing programs. Shortly after the disaster had occurred, layoffs due to business closure were reported to have affected nearly 1,000 individuals.(Ahillen 2017).
These new studies can help further explain to citizens that were not affected the needs of victims and ways to successfully contribute to recovery efforts. They also help public researchers and government officials analyze disasters that occurred in the past and improve on how the community was brought back to its former economic condition. Although the state of Tennessee is fairly new to the impacts of wildfires on the local economy, public disasters such as the major flooding of the Cumberland River in Nashville six years ago give public officials a better perception of the recovery timescale and when economic conditions could return to their former splendor.(Gaines 2016).
Recovery (Scott Osteen)
Recovery efforts have been on-going since the fires in November of 2016. Since the beginning, while the fires were still active in early December, experts indicated that the recovery process for wildlife as well as the people in the area would be difficult. Uncertainty was to play a major factor during the first few months of recovery. People lost businesses, homes, and loved ones in the fires. The community and local Governments would need to help those directly affected overcome uncertainty in order to allow recovery efforts to have success. The possibility of economic fall out and the threatened tourism market made this feat even more difficult. One way to mitigate uncertainty within recovery efforts was to reach out to federal and state legislators in order to acquire more funding for assistance. The most effective tool against uncertainty among the people affected were the people themselves. One local working with the recovery efforts, Jasmine Hurt, highlighted this point best when she said “You see this? This is Sevier County at what we do… When worse gets to worse, we give it back.” (Tamburin 2016)
As of January 2017 uncertainty within the recovery efforts has taken a pretty hefty blow. Tourism has started to return to the area. Luckily the fires didn’t affect pigeon forge, which continued to operate with little interruption. Gatlinburg hotels and shops were able to clean up relatively fast and reopen as well around Christmas. The biggest problem experts said the area would face, uncertainty, seemed to have little to no effect on the local business owners (Associated Press 2017). During January Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam included $10 million in the state budget for the wildfire rebuilding process in east Tennessee. This amount was initially $5 million, but was doubled due to the extra costs local Governments incurred from things like out of state firefighters and other various expenses. State Senators are also planning to introduce legislation that will provide additional support to the area (Bado 2017). The recovery efforts for the fires in east Tennessee have come a long way from the difficult outlook initially presented. While challenges are still ahead, the first few months are a strong indication that whatever obstacles this area faces for recovery can easily be overcome.
Economic and Tourism Impact (Matt Isbell)
Wildfires are becoming more frequent everywhere in the United States and they are also growing in size and duration. The economic impacts on the communities that are having these wildfires need to be understood. “Wildland fire impacts are often described in terms of lives threatened, structures and homes lost or damaged, overall suppression costs, and damage to the natural resource base on which many rural communities rely.” (Diaz 2012) The effects of wildfires can have positive and negative effects on local economies. The positive effects are the things that are given after the fire has suppressed such as donation, etc.. The negative economic impacts can be things such as the burning of timber, tourism, and agricultural production. Often local communities will become concerned with the health of their residents due to smoke. Then there is the biggest negative impact, the cost. The cost depends on the severity of the wildfires. ‘One of the factors that affects state and local budgets in the long-term is replacement of lost facilities and associated infrastructure.’ (Diaz 2012).
During the last few months of the past year, we were shown how climate patterns can really make a difference in how easily a wildfire can be started. In 2016, the months of October and November were some of the driest months we have seen in a while, and with these conditions, and being located in a mountainous area with easily flammable forests full of trees, made it that much worse. “The Southeast often experiences a secondary fire season in the fall, as October is typically the driest month of the year for many parts of the region. But the bone-dry conditions this year have added considerable fuel to the flames. (Thompson, 2016)” And in this tragedy, not only the wildlife and environment of the Gatlinburg/Sevier County area were destroyed, but many businesses and corporations took heavy blows financially and some even completely incinerated. Gatlinburg is a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and of the most highly toured cities in the Southeast region bringing in over 11 million tourists every year to visit the park and experience the town’s resorts and unique attractions you can’t find anywhere else, including Dollywood in neighboring town Pigeon Forge (Kahn, 2016). And although the majority of downtown Gatlinburg made it out unscathed by the flames, many resorts, cabins, and attractions reportedly took heavy damage which plays a huge role in the economic factor this disaster has on the city.
The wildfires have destroyed over 100 structures in Gatlinburg and 150 in greater Sevier County, which led to over 14,000 people being forced to evacuate their homes for their safety (Axelrod, 2016). There have been countless relief efforts since the fire started and are still ongoing with many crowdfunding campaigns and “GoFundMe’s” available to donate towards the families affected. With a tragedy of this magnitude to occur at a site of such beauty and fun opportunities, it is simply implied that the economy will decline is some fashion. However, the event happened nearing Winter, which is usually the time of the year with the least amount of population and tourism coming through Gatlinburg. And since many of the resorts and attractions are outdoors, the spring and summer seasons of the year are the times with peak population and revenue coming in through tourism. The city of Gatlinburg will eventually make it back on their feet and be able to put this tragedy behind them, but not without the help of countless others. Together, we will be able to not only boost the economy back to what it once was with the new renovations coming, but also boost the spirit and attitude of the people of Gatlinburg, making it one of the cornerstone tourism cities in the nation yet again.
Ike, Eric, and Emmanuel Martinez. “Wildfires aren’t just for the West anymore.” Grist: A non-profit news organization, 11 Oct. 2016, <http://grist.org/article/wildfires-arent-just-for-the-west-anymore/>.
Bado, Kirk A. "Haslam to boost fund for Gatlinburg wildfire recovery." The Tennessean. USA Today Network, 30 Jan. 2017. Web. 7 Apr. 2017. <http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2017/01/30/haslam-boost-fund-gatlinburg-wildfire-recovery/97253282/>.
Tamburin, Adam. "Wildfire recovery in Gatlinburg could take years." Knoxville News Sentinel. USA Today Network, 3 Dec. 2016. Web. 7 Apr. 2017. <http://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/local/tennessee/2016/12/03/wildfire-recovery-gatlinburg-could-take-years/94768378/>.
Associated Press. "After devastating wildfires, Gatlinburg, Tenn., welcomes back tourists." Times Free Press. N.p., 23 Jan. 2017. Web. 7 Apr. 2017. <http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2017/jan/23/after-devastating-wildfires-gatlinburg-tenn-welcomes-back-tourists/408922/>.
Gaines, Jim. "Sevier County Tourism Will Rise Again, Say Officials." Knoxville News Sentinel. USA Today Network, 29 Nov. 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.
Ahillen, Steve. "Gatlinburg Took $19 Million Tourism Hit after November Wildfire." Knoxville News Sentinel. USA Today Network, 01 Mar. 2017. Web. 03 May 2017.<http://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/local/tennessee/gatlinburg/2017/03/01/gatlinburg-took-19-million-tourism-hit-after-november-wildfire/98586418/>.
Ahillen, Steve. "Sevier County Wildfire Losses near $1 Billion." Knoxville News Sentinel. USA Today Network, 18 Jan. 2017. Web. 03 May 2017. <http://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/local/tennessee/2017/01/18/sevier-county-fires-spark-insurance-claims-842m-well-above-500m-estimate/96727112/>.
Diaz, Jason M. "Economic Impacts of Wildfire." Southern Fire Exchange (2012): 1-4. JFSP Knowledge Exchange. Web. 3 May 2017. <https://fireadaptednetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/economic_costs_of_wildfires.pdf>.
Kahn, Brian, and Climate Central. "Tennessee Wildfire Is "Unlike Anything We've Ever Seen"." Scientific American. N.p., 29 Nov. 2016. Web. 04 May 2017. <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/tennessee-wildfire-is-unlike-anything-weve-ever-seen/>.
Thompson, Andrea. "What a Warmer Future Means for Southeastern Wildfires." Climate Central. N.p., 23 Nov. 2016. Web. 04 May 2017. <http://www.climatecentral.org/news/warmer-future-southeastern-wildfires-20912>.
Axelrod, Jason. "Governments across Tennessee Respond to Deadly Gatlinburg Wildfire." American City & County Exclusive Insight, 30 Nov. 2016, p. 1. EBSCOhost, proxy.lib.utk.edu:90/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=119863211&scope=site.