A Forest After a Fire

Over the weekend a friend and I checked out a stand of trees that burned back in May. It wasn’t a natural forest, rather a plantation of red pines, but forest fires aren’t nearly as common here around the Great Lakes as they are out west and it was interesting to see up-close what woods look like in the aftermath of a fire. Because this particular fire only burned for a few hours, the trees are still standing, but they are mostly dead and dying with blackened trunks.

In some spots a lush carpet of grass and ferns had sprung up, probably in response to the burst of nutrients the fire released.

Wood-boring beetles are slowly working on demolishing the standing dead trees, and we could literally see and hear the process. Sawdust slowly drifted through the air around us and settled at the bases of the trunks.

Most amazing of all, we could literally hear the sound of the beetles chewing and gnawing all around us. Listen!

At the edge of the stand of pines a fire break was created to keep the blaze contained, and the contrast between burned on one side and not-burned on the other was sharp.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning!

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4 thoughts on “A Forest After a Fire”

    1. I believe this fire was started by lightning.

      I guess the natural fire frequency for forests around here would depend on what you’d consider a natural forest, because it is ALL second-growth, albeit very nice second growth. Wisconsin was pretty much logged completely clear, and then in the late 19th and early 20th century the slash left behind by the logging burned spectacularly. (The Peshtigo Fire, which happened on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire, killed five times as many people as the Chicago fire and burned 1.2 million acres.) Then everything regrew into the pleasant second-growth coniferous/hardwood forests we have today, which seem to burn quite rarely, perhaps due to human interference, although there was a big fire up in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota last year.

      When I Googled “Wisconsin fire regimes” I found this paper on historic fire regimes in the Great Lakes region – http://www.ncrs.fs.fed.us/gla/reports/LSFireCycles.pdf. Going by the table at the end, low-intensity fires like this may historically have happened in red pine forests about every 30 years.

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