Assessing Fire Damage To Trees: Tips On Repairing Burnt Trees

A tree that has been severely burned in a forest fire
(Image credit: Irina Piskova)

If your yard has trees damaged by fire, you may be able to save some of the trees. You’ll want to start helping fire damaged trees as quickly as possible, once you eliminate those trees that could fall on people or property. Read on for information about fire damage to trees.

Fire Damage to Trees

Fire can damage and even kill trees in your backyard. The extent of the damage depends on how hot and how long the fire burned. It also depends on the type of tree, the time of year the fire occurred, and how close the trees were planted.

An out-of-control fire can damage trees in your yard in various ways. It can completely or partially consume them, dry them out and scorch them, or simply singe them.

Many trees damaged by fire can recover, given your help. This is particularly true if the trees were dormant when they were injured. The first thing to do, even before you start helping fire damaged trees, is to determine the ones that need to be removed.

Removing Trees Damaged by Fire

If a tree has been so damaged that it is likely to fall, you will have to think about removing that tree. Sometimes it is easy to tell if fire damage to trees requires their removal, sometimes more difficult.

A tree is a hazard if the fire caused structural defects in the tree likely to cause all or part of it to fall. It is even more important to remove it if it could strike a person or some property beneath it when it falls, like a building, an electric line, or a picnic table. There is no point in repairing burnt trees if they are hazardous to people or property.

If severely burned trees are not located near property or an area people pass, you might be able to afford an attempt at repairing burnt trees. The first thing you want to do when you are helping fire damaged trees is to give them water.

Repairing Burnt Trees

A fire dries out trees, including their roots. When you are helping fire damaged trees, you must keep the soil beneath the trees moist at all times during the growing season. Water-absorbing tree roots are located in the top foot (31 cm.) or so of soil. Plan on soaking the entire area under the tree – dripline to branch tips – to a depth of 15 inches (38 cm.).

To accomplish this, you’ll have to offer water slowly. You can lay the hose on the ground and let it run slowly, or else invest in a soaker hose. Dig down to be sure the water is seeping into the soil where the tree needs it.

You’ll also want to protect your wounded trees from sunburn. The now burned canopy used to do that for the tree. Until it grows back, wrap the trunks and major limbs in light colored cloth, cardboard, or tree wrap. Alternatively, you can apply a water-based white paint.

Once spring comes, you can tell which branches are live and which are not by spring growth or lack of it. At that time, prune off dead tree limbs.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.