Assessing Fire Damage To Trees: Tips On Repairing Burnt Trees

If your yard has trees damaged by fire, you may be able to save some of the trees. You’ll want to start helping fire damaged trees as quickly as possible, once you eliminate those trees that could fall on people or property. Read on for information about fire damage to trees.

Fire Damage to Trees

Fire can damage and even kill trees in your backyard. The extent of the damage depends on how hot and how long the fire burned. But it also depends on the type of tree, the time of year the fire occurred, and how close the trees were planted.

An out-of-control fire can damage trees in your yard in various ways. It can completely or partially consume them, dry them out and scorch them, or simply singe them.

Many trees damaged by fire can recover, given your help. This is particularly true if the trees were dormant when they were injured. But the first thing to do, even before you start helping fire damaged trees, is to determine the ones that need to be removed.

Removing Trees Damaged by Fire

If a tree has been so damaged that it is likely to fall, you will have to think about removing that tree. Sometimes it is easy to tell if fire damage to trees requires their removal, sometimes more difficult.

A tree is a hazard if the fire caused structural defects in the tree likely to cause all or part of it to fall. It is even more important to remove it if it could strike a person or some property beneath it when it falls, like a building, an electric line, or a picnic table. There is no point in repairing burnt trees if they are hazardous to people or property.

If severely burned trees are not located near property or an area people pass, you might be able to afford an attempt at repairing burnt trees. The first thing you want to do when you are helping fire damaged trees is to give them water.

Repairing Burnt Trees

A fire dries out trees, including their roots. When you are helping fire damaged trees, you must keep the soil beneath the trees moist at all times during the growing season. Water-absorbing tree roots are located in the top foot (0.5 m.) or so of soil. Plan on soaking the entire area under the tree – dripline to branch tips – to a depth of 15 inches (38 cm.).

To accomplish this, you’ll have to offer water slowly. You can lay the hose on the ground and let it run slowly, or else invest in a soaker hose. Dig down to be sure the water is seeping into the soil where the tree needs it.

You’ll also want to protect your wounded trees from sunburn. The now-burned canopy used to do that for the tree. Until it grows back, wrap the trunks and major limbs in light-colored cloth, cardboard, or tree wrap. Alternatively, you can apply a water-based white paint.

Once spring comes, you can tell which branches are live and which are not by spring growth or lack of it. At that time, prune off dead tree limbs. If the damaged trees are pine

Tree Care Kit

Wayne K. Clatterbuck Associate Professor Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries University of Tennessee

Tree wounds are common and the causes include: broken branches impacts, abrasions and scrapes animal damage insect attack fire etc. Wounds usually break the bark and damage the food and water conducting tissues. Wounds also expose the inside of the tree to organisms, primarily bacteria and fungi that may infect and cause discoloration and decay of the wood. Decay can result in structurally weakened tree stems and can shorten the life of a tree. Decay cannot be cured. However, proper tree care can limit the progress of decay in an injured tree. This fact sheet discusses tree responses to wounding and what can be done after wounding to keep the tree healthy.

Tree Response to Wounding:

Trees respond to wounding or injury in two ways: compartmentalization and the development of barrier zones (Shigo 1986).


When a tree is wounded, the injured tissue is not repaired and does not heal. Trees do not heal they seal. If you look at an old wound, you will notice that it does not “heal” from the inside out, but eventually the tree covers the opening by forming specialized “callus” tissue around the edges of the wound. After wounding, new wood growing around the wound forms a protective boundary preventing the infection or decay from spreading into the new tissue. Thus, the tree responds to the injury by “compartmentalizing” or isolating the older, injured tissue with the gradual growth of new, healthy tissue.

Barrier Zones

Not only do trees try to close the damaged tissue from the outside, they also make the existing wood surrounding the wound unsuitable for spread of decay organisms. Although these processes are not well understood, the tree tries to avoid further injury by setting chemical and physical boundaries around the infected cells, reacting to the pathogen and confining the damage.

If the tree is fast and effective with its boundary-setting mechanisms, the infection remains localized and does not spread. However, if the boundary-setting mechanisms are not effective, the infection will spread. Most vigorous or actively growing trees are fairly successful in coping with decay-spreading mechanisms.

Care for Tree Wounds:

Proper care of tree wounds encourages callus growth and wound closure.

Physical Repair

Tree wounds often appear ragged where the bark is torn during the injury. This is common during branch breakage and when the trunk of the tree has been scraped. To repair this type of damage, cut off any ragged bark edges with a sharp knife. Take care not to remove any healthy bark and expose more live tissue than necessary. If possible, the wound should be shaped like an elongated oval, with the long axis running vertically along the trunk or limb. All bark around the wound should be tight.

Wound Dressings

Research indicates that wound dressings (materials such as tar or paint) do not prevent decay and may even interfere with wound closure. Wound dressings can have the following detrimental effects:

  • Prevent drying and encourage fungal growth
  • Interfere with formation of wound wood or callus tissue
  • Inhibit compartmentalization
  • Possibly serve as a food source for pathogens

For these reasons, applying wound dressings is not recommended. Trees, like many organisms, have their own mechanisms to deter the spread of decay organisms, insects and disease.

Cavity Filling

Filling large holes or hollows in the tree is generally done for cosmetic reasons. There is little data to indicate that a filled tree has better mechanical stability. However, fillings may give the callus tissue a place to seat, thus stopping the in-roll (folding) of the callus (Shigo 1982). Almost any filling can be used as long as it does not abrade the inside of the tree.

Filling a tree cavity is generally expensive and not recommended. Filling does not stop decay and often during the cleaning of the cavity, the boundary that separates the sound wood or the callus growth from the decayed wood is ruptured. Thus, this cleaning for cavity filling can have more detrimental effects on the tree than if it were left alone. Care must be taken not to damage the new callus tissue that has formed in response to the tree damage and subsequent decay.

Pruning Wounds

Proper pruning should be used to remove dead, dying and broken branches to remove low, crossing or hazardous branches and to control the size of the tree. However, pruning of any kind places some stress on the tree by removing food-producing leaves (if the branch is alive), creating wounds that require energy to seal, and providing possible entry points for disease.

Pruning cuts should be made to maximize the tree’s ability to close its wound and defend itself from infection. When pruning, make clean, smooth cuts. Do not leave branch stubs. Leave a small collar of wood at the base of the branch. The branch collar is a slightly swollen area where the branch attaches to the trunk. Cutting the limb flush with the trunk will leave a larger area to callus over and a greater chance of decay organisms entering the wound. The optimal pruning time is in the winter (dormant season) when temperatures and infection rates are lower and when trees are not actively growing.

Conclusion. Healthy trees usually recover from wounding quickly. Try to keep wounded trees growing vigorously by watering them during droughts and providing proper fertilization. This will increase the rate of wound closure, enhance callus growth and improve the resistance to decay mechanisms.

How to save your fire blight-infected tree

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If you see brown or blackened leaves, a tan oozing substance or streaks on the branches of certain ornamental or fruit trees or if it looks like your fruit tree has been scorched by fire, your tree may be suffering from a fire blight infection.

Fruit trees such as pear and quince are extremely susceptible. Apple and crabapple are also frequently damaged. Fire blight on ornamentals is less common, but those that are susceptible include firethorn (also known as pyracantha), hawthorn, spiraea, cotoneaster, toyon, juneberry or serviceberry, loquat and mountain ash.

The fire blight bacteria overwinters in long, narrow cankers on the tree and will present as wet-looking, brown, irregularly shaped, elongated lesions that develop in the bark and outer sapwood of spurs, branches and the tree trunk.

Before you grab your saw or pruning shears, carefully study and photograph the clues. There are specific management techniques that you can follow to save your tree, but you must act quickly and prune correctly, because fire blight is a fast-spreading, destructive disease.

Typically, in the spring, branch and trunk canker symptoms can appear as soon as the tree begins active growth. Open flowers are the most common infection sites, and the flower and flower stems will wilt and turn either black or brown depending on the type of fruit tree.

Successful removal of a fire blight infection is done in summer or winter when the bacteria are no longer spreading through the tree. At these times infections have ceased enlarging and canker margins are clearly visible.

Using the right sharpened tools for the job results in clean cuts and makes the job easier. Use hand pruners to snip twigs and branch tips less than 1/2 inch in diameter. For limbs up to 1½ inch in diameter, use long-handled pruners, which have better leverage. Pruning saws are best for branches more than 1½ inch in diameter.

When removing infected branches, the location of the cut is critical. The cut should be 8 to 12 inches beyond the visible damage to make sure you have removed all of the diseased tissue.

A telltale dark ring in the branch will indicate if the cut is not deep enough. To locate the correct cutting site, follow the infected branch to its point of attachment and cut at the next branch juncture down. This will remove the infected branch and the branch to which it is attached.

If the infection has traveled into a trunk or major limb, the wood often can be saved, but needs careful management by scraping off the bark down to both the outer and inner bark.

If you remove both the outer and inner layer of bark at the infection site, you will find the tissue closest to the infection site is brown. Further from the site it becomes red or orange streaks, and then red flecking. When scraping, look for long, narrow infections that can extend beyond the margin of the canker or infection site. If any are detected, remove all discolored tissue plus 6 to 8 inches more beyond the infection. This procedure is best done in winter when trees are dormant and bacteria aren’t active in the tree. Don’t apply any dressing to the wound. If the limb has been girdled, scraping won’t work, and the whole limb must be removed.

The disease spreads on contaminated tools, so it is important to disinfect the tools after each cut. A one- to three-minute soak in a mixture of one part unscented chlorine bleach and four parts water is an effective method of disinfecting tools. Chlorine bleach has a corrosive effect on tools if left on the metal too long. After pruning, wash the tools with soap and water, rinse them thoroughly and pat them dry before putting them away.


Often able to withstand more than three weeks

  • Ash – green, black, Manchurian
  • Boxelder
  • Cottonwood
  • Common hackberry
  • Willows

Able to withstand one to three weeks

  • Silver maple
  • Freeman maples (‘Autumn Blaze,’ ‘Sienna Glen,’ and others)
  • River birch
  • Russian-olive
  • Honeylocust
  • Quaking aspen
  • Bur oak
  • American and hybrid elms
  • Eastern arborvitae

Unable to withstand more than seven days

  • Norway maple
  • Sugar maple
  • Ohio buckeye
  • Paper birch
  • Hawthorns
  • Black walnut
  • Apples and crabapples
  • Mountain-ash
  • American linden (basswood)
  • Siberian elm
  • Siberian larch
  • Junipers (including Eastern redcedar)
  • Pines
  • Spruces

Identifying Signs of a Dying Tree

You will all agree that a layman cannot distinguish between a sick tree and a dead tree. It is assumed that, in either cases, the tree will look dried up, lifeless and without any traces of green foliage. Before you invest your time and resources for reviving a tree, it is essential to identify whether the tree is dead or dying. Some of the first tell-tale signs of a dying tree are listed below.

✿ Scanty or No Leaves

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There is a definite difference between trees shedding leaves during the autumn season and trees without leaves on account of sickness. Such trees, with bare branches, look like skeletons. At times, dying trees may have foliage that is scantier than a healthy tree of the same genre. At other times, such trees are known to have foliage on just a couple of branches or on a tiny area, with rest of the branches completely bare.

✿ Dried up Wood

Another sign to look out for is extreme dryness of wood. The branches look lifeless and can crack into pieces if pressure is applied. Unlike a healthy branch, dried branches do not bend. This lack of elasticity makes them brittle.

✿ Decaying

You cannot miss this sign. A growth of mushrooms or other fungi on the tree’s surface is a giveaway that the tree has a soft decaying trunk or branches. A fungal problem is more serious than it may look. This is because trees decay from their center towards the outer edge. By the time the fungal growth is noticed, the tree is already damaged to a great extent.

✿ Cracks on Trunks

A dying tree may start displaying vertical, continuous cracks on their trunks. Similarly, it might lose the outer smooth layer of its bark.

✿ Leaning Tree Structure

While the tree starts dying, its roots lose their strength and ability to hold the tree upright in the soil. As a result, you will notice that the tree starts bending or leaning rather awkwardly towards one particular side. If the tree in question is huge, it can pose a serious threat to safety of your house.

✿ Weak Branches

The branches of a dying tree are likely to lose strength and give way easily under the weight of its own leaves.

Time to Start Saving Your Sick Tree

Now that you know all about identifying the signs of a sick tree and the ways on how to save it, you can now start saving your sick trees. If you get it right from the identification of a sick tree to the actual tree saving process, you can definitely save your sick or dying tree.

Did you find this tutorial easy enough to follow? I hope this tutorial will prove to be helpful in your endeavor to save your sick tree. After all, a healthy and happy tree does not only add property and aesthetic value to your home, but it also offers protection against strong winds and the blazing sun.

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