Before and After a Prescribed Burn
Right after a burn is conducted, you would expect to see a blackened understory, with most of the smaller fuels having been consumed by the
fire. Understory and midstory hardwoods and shrubs may not be fully consumed, but their foliage will be brown. In a pine stand, it is not unusual
to even see some brown needles on the overstory trees. Pine trees are adapted to this heat-induced scorch of the needles, which will soon shed
and be replaced with new green needles. Some of the larger fuels (logs, stumps) may not be fully consumed, or may continue to smolder on for
several days after the fire.
While the purpose is to reduce the overall fuel load, a good prescribed burn will leave a small amount of the litter
layer intact to protect the stability of the site and native seed bank. This is one of the differences when compared to a wildfire, which may
burn a site down to bare mineral soil. Herbaceous vegetation will quickly begin to resprout, often in a matter of days, and a month or two
into the next growing season, the site should be lush with fresh green vegetation. After a full year of regrowth, the native grasses and forbs
will have completely occupied the site and many will have flowered and seeded. The skeletons of the hardwood vegetation that were killed by the
fire may still remain, but they will begin to break down and fall onto the forest floor, becoming fuel for the next fire.
Repeating this process
over time will clean this woody component up and result in a more herbaceous composition overall. Depending on the productivity of the site,
the amount of woody vegetation before the fire, and the season of the fire, the shrub and hardwood layer will slowly begin to regrow in the
understory over the next few years, hence the 2-3 year general burning rotation. If this woody vegetation is allowed to continue without being
checked by another fire, the site will generally return to its pre-fire condition within 4-5 years.