Fire severity, recovery and debris flows for the Tellico Fire, NC, 2016-2023
The Tellico fire was a major fire of the Southern Appalachian's fall 2016 fire season. According to newspaper records, the central portion of this fire last burned in the mid-1950s. As shown, most initial decline was on upper slopes, with far less aspect influence than observed on other fires. That is, a strong predictor of fire severity was slope position.
Fire is known to weaken tree roots and this, along with the loss of understory shrubs, likely contributed to debris flows within the Nantahala Gorge portion of the burn in late August 2019, nearly three years after the wildfire. These steep ravines show up in red for the very late growing season of 2020 compared to 2019 as does the area at the base of the hill in one instance, near the Ferebee Memorial parking area. Notably, not only does the initial fire severity show up well with 10m change in NDVI, but so do these enlarged, but very narrow debris flow channels.
The dark blue area to the left of the Tellico Fire is an early 2016 prescribed fire that is mostly recovering except for some areas that were severely reburned in early 2022 during a subsequent prescribed fire.