UPDATE 8/19/2016 6 PM:
Signs of recovery in the Los Padres National Forest could sprout as soon as next spring, but trees could take years to recover from the Soberanes Fire.
The area where the Soberanes Fire is burning is home to a number of different trees. There are Monterey cypress and Monterey pine in the Carmel area, redwoods along the coast and in Big Sur. Oak woodland stands call Carmel Valley, Tassajara, Cachagua and Jamesburg home, while the Los Padres National Forest has a lot of pines.
Over the years, various tree diseases have taken its toll. Pitch canker is a fungus that affects many pine species, while sudden oak death affects oak trees. Pine trees also face a threat by bark beetles. Experts say the drought has exacerbated the problem. Now these flame-ravaged trees are posing a major hazard for Cal Fire crews and the public. They are fire-weakened and can fall.
Crews are also seeing something they really haven’t seen before.
"These oaks used to be very resistant to fire, and now we're seeing entire stands of them, at times, burn,” said Cal Fire Forester Jonathan Pangburn. “And that is something that we just haven't seen previously, other than with the 2015 Tassajara. It looks like we're just going to have to start dealing with it now in a new fire environment here."
Redwoods on the coast are in big trouble also. The trees have shallow root systems and when a fire comes through and damages it, it makes these massive trees more susceptible to falling.
Recovery could take years.
"What we're finding is the brush returns within three to five years,” said Jeff Kwansey, the resource officer of the Monterey District of the Los Padres National Forest. “Of course it's not as dense, not as tall as it was before the fire. But in three to five years, it's really vegetated with brush. What we are losing are a lot of our tree components because fire normally in this area is between 25 and 50 years. And since the mid '70's, we've been having a fire roughly every 10 years, eight to 10 years. So it's a little too often for the trees to regenerate and grow above the fire line."
They say grass is generally the first type of vegetation to sprout after winter rains. As for the trees, Redwoods are “prolific sprouters,” meaning the tree can keep putting out new sprouts. Oak trees can grow through acorns and foresters are seeing some regeneration in the Cachagua area, which saw the Tassajara Fire in 2015. However, there is still evidence of the 2008 Basin Complex Fire in the area, with fallen trees that have not yet decayed.
The recovery depends on a variety of factors: access to water and sunlight and nutrients in the soil. Crews plan to test the soil once the fire dies down.
"Burn soil severity ratings and that way we can project whether or not we think it can recover in one year or years beyond that," Kwansy said.
According to forestry officials, grasslands burned in the Soberanes Fire will start to recover with the first rain. Brush and trees will take much longer.
Tonight at 5 and 6, KION's Mariana Hicks will show us how years of drought, combined with other recent fires, will slow the recovery of Monterey County's wildlands.