Fire history studies are important tools for understanding past fire regimes and the roles humans played in those regimes. Beginning in 2010, we conducted a fire history study in the Pine Creek Gorge area of north-central Pennsylvania to ascertain the number of fires and fire-free intervals, their variability through time, and the role of human influences. We collected 93 cross sections from fire-scarred red pine (Pinus resinosa) snags, stumps, and living trees at three separate sites along the western rim of Pine Creek Gorge. From these, we found 79 fire years and 11 multidecadal fire-free intervals between 1600 and 2010. The three fire histories were quite synchronous; their fire years and fire-free periods mirrored one another despite being 12 to 14 km apart. Before 1791, fires were rare, suggesting a low population of American Indians and (or) little woodland burning by the tribes. A prolonged fire-free interval from 1650 to 1735 coincided with the Beaver Wars and the introduction of European diseases. Another fire-free period coincided with the American Revolutionary War. After that, fires became quite common with nearly all of them occurring within the next 125 years while Pine Creek Gorge was intensively logged. Since logging ended and fire control started in the 1910s, fires have been virtually absent from the three sites. Based on the fire and human histories, we conclude that human activities and culture are the driving forces behind the fire regimes of Pine Creek Gorge.
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Vol. 35 • No. 2