Fire Frenzy! (part 2 of 2)

The High Park Fire burn area is one of the most fascinating places I have been to!  While I was very fortunate to see the forest fire in action, the fire as we know it burned out of control for about a month and was finally 100% contained in early September.  It was captivating to watch entire trees torch up from base to meristem (the very top point of growth for those non-plant nerds) and to witness flames consuming the dead and fallen leaf litter that had accumulated on top of the soil for many years.  This all happened relatively quickly.  Fire is this crazy thing that ignites, runs like crazy, and dies out.  It’s “life” is actually very short.

But what about the actual life that returns to an area that is burned?  Doesn’t that take a long time to come back?  And just how long is a long time?

Here are my observations to help answer that question.

2.5 months post-fire. Moderately burned area meaning the grasses, litter, and most of the tree burned. Note all of the grasses and forbs growing.
2.5 months post-fire. Moderately burned area.  Everything on the ground and trunks of the trees burned. These trees are not likely to survive.
2.5 months post-fire. Moderate burn area. Paintbrush thriving in nutrient rich soil among grass species that have come in fairly dense.
3 months post-burn. Moderate burn area. Mullein and sedge are abundant and throughout this burn site.
3 months post-fire. Severely burned slope. Note lack of green (vegetation).
3 months post-burn. Severely burned area where everything burned. Note the spotty vegetation (a forb) growing here.
3 months post-burn. Severely burned area. Forbs are growing next to rocks and fallen burned trees, likely because water collects here.
3 months post-burn. Severely burned area. Sedges have grown from seed.

As you can see from the photos I have taken at various sites within the greater burn area, seeds do not take long to respond and send up shoots.  This is of course dependent on water availability, sunlight, and nutrients.  It is also dependent on how severe the burn was and how deep it impacted the soil and the seeds within it.

It is absolutely breath-taking to wander through a recently burned area and see the changes that are taking place.  I am surprised at how quickly plants and animals have returned to something that from a quick glance with the human eye appears to have nothing to offer.  It is a lesson in pausing to look more closely to observe what is happening around us.  Change constantly happens, always affecting something or someone.  And that is a pretty powerful and phenomenal thing!

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