In all the smoke-filled photos of the Camp Fire devastation in Paradise, California one thing stands out to me: The buildings are gone but the trees are still standing.
The town of Paradise, California (population 26,000) was destroyed on 8 November 2018 by the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. As soon as it ignited at 6:30am, the fire raced westward on 50-70 mph winds. By 8am it reached the Paradise Town Limit six miles away. Seven towns were forced to evacuate but not everyone made it out. As of 26 November, 88 are confirmed dead, 203 are still missing and tens of thousands are left homeless.
But the trees survived. You can see them in all the photos and videos including these taken on 17 Nov by the California National Guard as they searched the rubble and marked the damage.
So why are the trees OK in this incinerated landscape? I’m sure it has to do with moisture.
Living trees contain more moisture than the dry wood in buildings. When blowing embers hit houses, they catch fire immediately. The trees’ moisture resisted. The fire moved on.
This video by Mike West shows how quickly fire consumes dry wood compared to living trees.
The scene is spooky now. Nearly everything is gone but the trees are still standing.
p.s. Some trees are damaged and will fall sooner or later. Here’s an NPR story about trees in the fire zone.