The Bastrop Fires: Assessing the long-term impacts

Since the devastating fires in Bastrop County in September, we have been involved in several fire-related projects in the Bastrop area.  The fires devastated large areas of Bastrop County, and left more than 1,500 people homeless.

The effects of the Bastrop fires have been considerable. The pine woods, for which the area is well known, have been damaged severely by the intense heat of the flames. Survivability is not certain with respect to the affected areas.

The Bastrop pine trees are serotinous (naturally fire resistant), and rely on infrequent fires to clear competition and open cones for regeneration. This is a natural element of the pine forest, and necessary for the long-term health of the forest ecosystem.

However, even with the natural fire-resistance associated with the loblolly pines in these areas of Bastrop, the Texas Forest Service is concerned about the stresses associated with the drought, coupled with the extreme heat of the fires. The fires burned so hot, and the pines were so drought-stressed, that we are taking a wait-and see approach to survivability. The trees were already so dry, that even the survivability of the trees in less affected areas is suspect.

Pines that were surrounding burning homes were inevitably killed, as were those trees around wood piles, sheds, vehicles or motor homes where the fires also burned much hotter.  It has been my recommendation that these trees be removed in order to safely re-build the new homes.  Some people have also requested removals around the new structures for fire abatement as well.

The hardwoods in these areas typically did not fare as well, and I fear that most of them are dead.  They have thinner bark than the loblolly pines, and therefore the cambium is not protected against the heat.  Many of the hardwoods I inspected showed no signs of a living cambium.  We do recommend, however, that if in doubt you wait until the spring to make a decision.  If you have any further questions, contact the Texas Forest Service. I am available for consultations for an hourly fee in the Bastrop area.