PLUMAS COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — The destruction left behind by the Dixie, Caldor and other recent wildfires not only includes damaged homes and charred lands but a countless number of damaged trees also remain.
The Dixie Fire ripped through five counties and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings before claiming one life.
When the flames were finally fully extinguished, the blaze would be documented as the second-largest fire in California history, burning nearly 1 million acres and leaving a massive number of damaged trees in the aftermath.
Niel Fischer is the western resource manager for the Collins Pine Company in the town of Chester in Plumas County.
“This is a ponderosa pine log,” Fischer explained. “The burn marks are here. That’s just black bark from the fire. We have trees they were in the order of 582 years old.”
About 10% of the land burned in the Dixie Fire belongs to his company.
“It came through and burned 54,400 of those 95,000 acres that we operate,” Fischer said. “If you turn the camera around you can see all the lumber stacked on what we call our log roll out deck, a place where we unload log trucks. We are currently storing lumber that hasn’t been dried yet in our drying system because we have so darn much.”
Because of how fast the trees decay, the company is racing to get the burned trees out of the forest.
“We have to move quickly,” Fischer said. “We have a range of time, say between nine and 30-months-time, that we have to get all of that volume taken care of before we think it’ll be too far deteriorated to be recoverable as an economic asset.”
Collins produces about 90 million board feet of lumber a year. Fischer showed FOX40 the inner workings of the company.
Just down the road is where something unique is taking place.
A particular area four miles south of the town of Chester that was hit very hard by the Dixie Fire, a lot of the trees have already been cut and eventually the thin forest will be fully removed.
That is when the reforestation efforts begin, and unlike traditional forest management, when it’s time to replant trees in the area, the land will be a blank canvas, offering forest managers a chance to try something that may change how regrowing forests can be done for decades to come.
“Rehabilitating the forest involves preparing it for those seedlings, but it also involves the planning around what species of trees you are going plant and at what densities to ensure those trees can grow freely in the future,” Fischer said.
A recent study out of UC Davis concludes that in order to help protect forests against fires and make them more resilient, the density of forests, in some cases, should be reduced by as much as 80%.
Historical data showed the southern and central Sierra Nevada, along with the Sequoia and Stanislaus national forests, saw their respective forests densities increase six to seven-fold from 1911 to 2011.
With fewer trees in a forested area, there’s less competition for water.
“That planning component needs to take into consideration what we know to be occuring in climate change, what we know the temperature regimes are doing. We are planning ahead for that we are looking to replant with species that we know are more tolerant to high temperatures, to more tolerant to less water being available,” Fischer explained.
The Dixie Fire has changed many lives and may also have helped change an entire industry as well.