Many Californian ecosystems are adapted to periodic fire and will naturally recover after experiencing a wildfire. As we saw with the 2017 fires, native trees and shrubs resprout from branches and bases, even when they appear burned and dead. For example, redwoods and many species of oak trees have thick bark that helps protect the vital parts of the tree and can withstand the impacts of a wildfire. Even completely burned vegetation and their remaining roots systems can be beneficial to keep as they provide protection from soil erosion and can provide habitat and cover to wildlife. In many cases, simply letting natural processes take their course can be the best approach to post-fire ecosystem recovery. However, trees that pose a health and safety hazard, particularly in areas adjacent to or in proximity structures, should be removed. If you are unsure if your trees pose a health and safety hazard, they should be assessed by a certified arborist or Registered Professional Forester (RPF).
Tips for working around burned trees:
Warning: Damaged trees may fall at any time. Be cautious and aware of your surroundings at all times. Do not stand downhill of trees and rocks being removed.
- Watch your step! Trees and tree roots often burn for weeks after a large wildfire. Complete root structures could be burned through, leaving an undetectable void beneath the surface. Be careful when working around large stumps.
- Watch your head! A hardhat should be worn at all times when working under the canopy. Branches may fall with no warning and can be deadly. Avoid parking vehicles under tree canopies, especially before the first winter storms.
- Take note of the trees that post a threat to life and/or property.
- Trees that post a health and safety hazard, or that private landowners otherwise desire to remove, should be assessed by a Certified Arborist or Registered Professional Forester (RPF).
- Unless the represent an immediate threat to life and/or property, only remove trees after a consultation with appropriate parties.
Burned trees may be unstable and may fall due to fire damage. Make sure to visually check the stability. Winds are normally responsible for toppling weakened trees. Wind patterns in your area may have changed due to loss of adjacent tree cover. Look for burns on the tree trunk. If the bark on the trunk has been burned off or scorched by very high temperatures completely around the circumference, the tree will likely not survive. Where fire has burnt deep into the trunk, the tree should be considered unstable. Look for burnt roots by probing the ground with a rod around the base of the tree and several feet away from the base. Roots are generally six to eight inches below the surface. If the roots have been burned, you should consider this tree to be very unstable and at risk in winds.
The Napa County Resource Conservation District (RCD) has helpful resources for property owners, including contacts with arborists and foresters. Visit the RCD's Fire Resources page here.
For more information about tree removal, visit the Napa County Private Tree Removal page.
The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides on-site technical assistance for privately-owned forested properties related to erosion control, debris removal, and/or seeding. Visit the NRCS page for more information.
The California Native Plant Society's (CNPS) Fire Recovery Guide provides in-depth information regarding post-fire tree care and recovery, soil erosion control, and native plant recovery. Visit the Napa County NCPS Page for more information.
See the Post-Fire Watershed Recovery Frequently Asked Questions for more information.
Click here to return to the Post-Fire Watershed Recovery homepage.