EAST TEXAS (KTRE) - Close to 29,000 acres of timber country was hit be fire across East Texas. Now timber owners must decide their next step.
Forestry consultants begin their assessment by looking up. "If it scorches all the way up to the top, than the trees usually die," said John Crawford, a forest consultant for over 30 years.
State foresters have already predicted most of the trees in the Bearing Fire will die. If landowners move fast enough they might be able to get some return on their investment.
"Saw timber is usually debarked and there's not really any problem with the lumber because you cut the side boards off and you get down to a square piece of lumber and that can't and usually doesn't show any damage at all," explained Crawford.
Even so lumber mills will be reluctant to buy the wood. The soot stained bark, with its high carbon content, isn't desirable for many by products.
Timber procurement administrator for G&S Lumber in Nacogdoches, Buddy Hawkins says he won't be interested in any of the burned trees. "Excessive heat creates kinda a welding action between the bark and the wood itself and it does not debark very well," said Hawkins. "We use the bark for by products, a big percentage of our revenue."
G&S sales the bark for mulch. "No buyer will want to put soot covered bark in their yard." Other markets are also particular, even fuel use at the region's new biomass industry. "That may be the strongest market for the timber refuse if the price is right," said Crawford.
If a buyer is found, the price may not be worth more than the paper the contract is written on. Pulp wood prices are at an all time low. Contractors are paid by the tonnage. As wood dries out, it gets lighter and lighter.
"And so if he can only load 20 tons on a truck that would normally haul 30 tons, he can't afford the diesel to get it to the mill," said Crawford.
Ironically, fire could have possibly saved the trees and prevented the fires' wide coverage. A controlled burn reduces fuel layers, such as downed timber, pine straw, and brush. The Power Line fire in Jasper County was fueled by down timber left by Hurricane Rita.
"Pine trees are insulated by its thick bark and can easily tolerate ground level flames," said Crawford, a proponent of well managed controlled burning.
Chances are the burned out trees will be left where they are. The stands could be ground up for fertilizer to serve the next crop of trees. The industry loss will be felt, but not by the consumer.
"It's certainly not any thing an individual can shake off because it is catastrophic to those individuals, but for the overall market, it's a drop in the bucket," said Crawford.
It could take months before a dollar amount is placed on the loss.