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Henri Grissino-Mayer, James R. Cox professor in the Department of Geography and an expert in using tree rings to reconstruct past climates, has warned of megafires consuming communities along the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Grissino-Mayer was recently featured in the Knoxville News Sentinel, as he continues to warn city officials that the Smoky Mountains are 520,000 acres of kindling.

As director of the UT Laboratory on Tree Ring Science, Grissino-Mayer knew early settlers and native Americans regularly burned the area now deemed the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For a healthy forest, attractive to game and bountiful berry patches, humans for centuries burned the mountains, according to the News Sentinel article.

Whether started by lightning or people, tree rings recorded 13 fires between 1825 and 1934, he said. Those fires in what would become the National Park consumed fuel collecting on the forest floor.

On May 9, Grissino-Mayer addressed the monthly meeting of the Gatlinburg City Commission. He plans to continue warning officials about the potential for forest fires to occur again in the future.