Scores of fires â€“ and their smoke â€“ are clearly visible in this image of the Southeastern United States. It has been another active fire season in the U.S. So far this year (from 01/01/05 to 10/14/05), there have been close to 55,000 events that have impacted over 3.3 million hectares (8.2 million acres); the ten year averages over the same time period are 70,000 fires that burned 1.8 million hectares (4.5 million acres). It is expected that “wildland fire” or “wildfire” events will increase in this area because of Hurricane Katrina and other tropical storms. Most of the forests along the Gulf coast are pines, with highly a combustible understory consisting of shrubs and herbs. Many limbs and even whole trees were knocked down by the storm, creating a larger fuel load than normal on the ground. The openings in the forest canopy will allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor, which will dry out the downed limbs and trees faster than normal. The shrubs and herbs will at least temporarily enjoy less competition and therefore grow a little faster, adding to the fuel load. These conditions could combine to create a unusually hazardous fire season in the Southeast.
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