Will fire kill my hardwoods?

This is a common question regarding burning in hardwood forests in the eastern U.S. The short answer is yes, fire can kill hardwoods, but fire can also kill pine trees or any other type of tree. The key to hardwood tree mortality is fire intensity and duration. Low-intensity fire with flame lengths of 6-12 inches typically will not harm upland hardwood species unless woody debris has accumulated at the base of the tree. Use a conservative prescription, on the first burn in particular, to limit fire intensity and duration. Before burning your forest or woodland for the first time, walk through the area you intend to burn and remove any slash or accumulated woody debris from around the trunks of high-value trees, whether for wildlife or timber. Accumulated woody debris, when ignited, may retain heat long enough to damage the cambium (inner bark layer) and injure or stress the tree. Unless there has been a recent windstorm, ice storm, or other such event, most trees will be clear of debris and clearing can be done fairly quickly.