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Are Trees Damaged by a Nearby Fire?

A brush fire or bonfire can damage hardwoods pretty easily. Softwoods are less vulnerable. June 14, 2014

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
I recently burnt a fair size brush pile on a wooded lot where our company is building a home. The brush was very dry and the fire got very hot. While the fire was not right against other trees it wasn't in a clearing either. My question is how much heat can a tree take before being damaged or killed? The trees in question are between 40-60 feet tall.

Forum Responses
(Forestry Forum)
From contributor T:
There are a lot of variables to consider in your question - mainly the species of trees affected and the temperature and duration that those trees were exposed to. As you can imagine, some species have thicker bark which insulates better, and some are just plain more resistant regardless of the damage. If memory serves correctly, cell death will occur at about 140 deg. F, but often times (again, depending on species) the tree may not die from the fire, but it may sustain a damage in that spot closest to the fire (and potentially causing a defect in that log in the future). Keep an eye on the trees you're most concerned about, and the next couple of weeks will tell you if they are damaged - watch the foliage for wilting or dying leaves.



From Contributor Y:
Most hardwoods are pretty easily damaged by fire, especially during the growing season. They can survive a lot of abuse, but may form a hollow area where they wall off the fire-damaged tissue. If the fire was just on one side, this is the most likely outcome. If the fire was all the way around the tree, the effect is the same as girdling. Pine, on the other hand, has a thicker bark, and is very resistant to fire damage. Controlled burns are often used to clear hardwoods out of pine plantations for this reason. Keep an eye on the tree for changes in vigor.

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