How Will The Forests Fare Following Tennessee's Terrible Fire Season?

Dec 13, 2016

As Tennessee's worst wildfire season in decades flames out, residents and visitors to fire-damaged areas are surprised to see the trees look fine.

But forestry officials say just because the woods weren't burned to stumps doesn't mean nothing is wrong.

"I'm not sure anyone knows exactly right now what type of damage has been done where," says forest health specialist Nathan Hoover with the Tennessee Division of Forestry.

Even in the deadly Gatlinburg blaze, the fire mostly stayed out of the treetops. Hoover says that helped.

"The canopy is the worst, but it can also do a lot of damage below ground in the roots," Hoover says. "A lot of activity is going on in those feeder roots, in the top six inches of soil. So when the fire moves across and kills those feeder roots, it removes the capacity of that tree to intake nutrients in the ground."

Hoover says even in the spring, when trees begin budding, green doesn't mean all is well. The fire damage could make trees more susceptible to disease and insects. And he says the woods were already in a weakened state because of the extreme drought in the areas that burned.

Overall, Tennessee's forests will bounce back, Hoover says. I­t's just a question of how long it takes.