Backpackers bushwhacking through secondary growth in an old burned area

Burned forests

Published 2020-09-21

We spent some time this past summer backpacking in areas that had burned in 2010 and 2015. (Some of those same forests are affected this year.) It was striking, while passing through these burned spaces, to see how patchily the fires affected those forests. In some places the only sign of a fire was a few blackened trunks on otherwise healthy trees. In other places every single tree was dead. Or the trees along a stream looked fine, while the hillside next door was a chaos of blowdowns and landslides. Where 100,000 acres burn, those acres won’t be uniformly fried to the dirt. They will be a patchwork of death and rebirth.

Where that patchwork intersects human spaces, though, the human spaces will not be half-destroyed, and they will not return organically. Houses and roads and phone lines and power lines are mostly completely gone, and must be rebuilt by hand.