Restoring and Caring for Trees Following a Wildfire

Wildfires can ravage not only forest trees, but residential trees and other residential landscapes. The degree of damage may range from merely singed to completely consumed. After the fire, there are ways to determine whether you should remove a tree or salvage it.

As experts in arboricultural concerns, we encourage homeowners to know the factors that determine tree mortality so that, following a wildfire, they would know what to with the trees. Here are a few insights on how you can manage damages wrought by wildfire.

Determining Tree Survivability and Mortality

Fire can burn leaves and needles, damage the roots, trunks and ranches, injure the inner tissue or even cause bud death. To an extent, fires can cause soil desiccation, and with inadequate soil moisture after the fire, the tree will most likely die. Bark beetles may also attack a water-stressed, fire-damaged tree.

The survivability and mortality of a tree after a fire varies. Factors that could affect a tree’s survivability include length of exposure to fire, the intensity of the fire and the growth stage of the tree. For instance, spring trees are more susceptible to fires than dormant trees. Mature trees will be more fire-resistant because they have grown thicker barks.

The following are factors to determine if the tree may still survive:

  • If the bark has not been completely burned off
  • If there is a green or a white moist cambial layer below the bark
  • If the roots are still supple instead of brittle and dried out
  • If twigs still bend easily
  • If buds are still green and moist

 Caring for Fire Damaged Trees

The first thing you should do to salvage a tree is to soak the surrounding soil with water. If the water would not penetrate the desiccated soil, rake the ground to loosen the impermeable layer. To help the soil absorb more water, mulch the area with a thin-layer of weed-free straw. Check trees weekly and water regularly and slowly to avoid runoff.

Wrap the trunks and large limbs with light-coloured cloth or tree wrap to protect them from sunburn. Then, loosen the wrap every few months to give room for the tree to grow without being girdled.

The tree should have the ability to resprout so it can survive. If it can grow back its roots, it can provide soil stabilisation for fire-desiccated soils, which is why it is important to know whether you should remove the tree or give it another chance to recuperate. Some tree species that quickly resprout after a wildfire are aspen, crabapple, honey, locust, maple, willow, and birch.

After a fire, it is important to carefully evaluate what steps to take. Burnt trees following a wildfire can cause other hazards that may harm your family. Unstable trees or limbs can break and fall. Also, during the cleanup process, you can injure other trees while removing or salvaging damaged trees.

Pruning off dead or severely-damaged limbs and branches is also one way of salvaging trees. However, there are plenty of considerations before deciding to prune. Such as, to avoid beetle infestation, wait until fall to prune damaged limbs. Contact us today for more information about how to prune fire-damaged trees correctly.