After the Wildfire – Recovery and Reclamation of Land Tips

By Nancy Aird

As the population builds out into rural areas, the chances of wildfire impacting your life increases with damage possible away from the direct wildfire. The severity of the fire impacts not only the vegetation we see, but the soil structure and microbial community beneath. Slopes damaged by wildfire are prone to accelerated soil erosion, floods, and landslides (debris flow) from damaged vegetation and roots that protected the soil.

Evaluation of burn conditions on the land after a fire often uses 3 definitions to describe how the soil and vegetation was affected: Burn Intensity, Soil Burn Severity, and Hydrophobic Soil.

  • Burn intensity is flame height, rate of spread, fuel load, thermal potential, canopy consumption, and tree mortality.
  • Soil burn severity takes into consideration lack of ground cover, loss of raindrop interception by canopy cover, loss of organic matter and soil structure integrity.
  • Hydrophobic Soil is the degree soil will absorb moisture.) Pour a cup of water on the soil.  If the water beads up, the soil has been affected in that area.  The temperature, duration, type of organic matter in the area produce organic chemical during combustion up to a depth of 6 inches.  These substances condense and coat the soil particles making them hydrophobic.

TEST: Drop water on soil surface and observe time to infiltrate soil. Trench and test down a shallow trench to see degree soil was affected.

  • Slight: Less than 10 seconds.
  • Moderate: Between 10 to 40 seconds.
  • Strong: Greater than 40 seconds.

Following are some informative web sites to provide Recovery Tips for Homeowners. Recommendations on what to buy and how to reseed, recondition hydrophobic soil, reforestation, weed control, and construction of erosion barriers. The WSU article states Sept. 15 to October 15 is the best time to reseed to establish roots before winter.  Creating barriers from debris flows (shallow landslides of saturated water creating muddy flows carrying rocks and debris) will deter erosion, destruction of fish habitat, flooding, road and utility damage.

Check out USDA and NRCS sites for many sites on recovery available grants, and where to get additional help recovering from fire loss.

CARE FOR DAMAGED TREES –    Taking Care of Residential Trees after Wildfire – Fact Sheet by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

NRCS-WSU Wildfire Recovery Tips Southeast Washington.