The Good and Bad of Forest Fires

Forest fires help in the natural cycle of woods' growth and replenishment. They:

  • Release seeds or otherwise encourage the growth of certain tree species, like lodgepole pines
  • Clear dead trees, leaves, and competing vegetation from the forest floor, so new plants can grow
  • Break down and return nutrients to the soil
  • Remove weak or disease-ridden trees, leaving more space and nutrients for stronger trees
  • Keep tree stands thin and open, letting more sunlight in so trees stay healthier
  • Improve wildlife habitat

But when fires burn too hot or when they’re in the “wildland-urban interface” (the places where woodlands and homes or other developed areas meet), they can be damaging and dangerous. Some possible effects of these fires are:

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  • Damaged or destroyed trees—when fires burn too intensely and reach tree crowns, they can hurt even strong, well-established trees
  • Charred, damaged soils
  • Floods or landslides in areas where the soil is most severely burned
  • Damaged homes and other structures
  • Smoke, which can irritate the eyes and respiratory system and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases, including asthma

Wildfires can be powerful and frightening. Every landowner hopes to never face one. But if a wildfire should happen on your property, there are steps you can take to keep yourself and your land safe. 

*contains information adapted from the Project Learning Tree Focus on Forests curriculum.


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