After the Fire Safety

New growth

Where is the Burned Area?

The Swan Lake Fire burned with a variety of intensities over the four months it was active on the Kenai Peninsula, burning hot through black spruce stands while dancing lightly around wetlands. Wildfire in Alaska’s forests creates a mosaic of different landscapes. A visit to the area reveals where the actual “burned area” is accessible to visitors. This map shows a general perimeter of where the fire burned in relation to trails and roads.

Swan Lake Fire Map 2020 web

What about Wildlife?

Animals in this fire-adapted ecosystem react to smoke just as humans do, moving away and seeking shelter in safe zones like wetlands and lakes. Though some individual animals may not avoid harm, their species’ population benefits as a whole from the forest’s rebirth after fire.

What Happens Next?

Regrowth of new plants has already begun within the Swan Lake Fire scar. The boreal forest restarts through a process called succession.

Regrowth after fireYoung plants like fireweed and willow will feed a wide variety of wildlife species while trees sprout saplings, grow taller and later restore the forest canopy. Old trees prepare for fire’s return by growing abundant seeds that will sprout in the recharged post-fire soils.

Mushrooms like morels are essential to this forest rebirth, decomposing organic material into new soil. Downed trees catch this soil and wind-blown seeds, creating the habitat needed for new plants to grow and reducing the risk of soil runoff after rains.

Morels: True and False

After fire, morel mushrooms grow in abundance. Mushrooms harvested on the Refuge may not be sold. Please visit the Chugach NF website for information on harvesting mushrooms of the forest. Closely inspect each mushroom to ensure it is a true morel. False morels do grow here too.

Morels can resemble other closely related species that are frequently found in similar habitats. Edibility of these species run the  gamut from choice  to deadly poisonous, so learning to identify “true” morels from “false” morels is critical.  Even the best edibles in this group, the morels, should always be well cooked, as raw or undercooked specimens are responsible for a large number of poisonings each year. *Photos by Noah Siegel*

True Morel“True” Morels  (Morchella spp.) can vary in color. Typically those found in burn areas are dark brown, gray, or black. They have conic to rounded caps with a network of ridges and pits, are completely hollow, and a cap that is attached along its entire length to the stem. Morels are considered choice edibles, however some people cannot tolerate morels even when well cooked.

False morelEarly False Morel (Verpa bohemica) can be very common in the spring, especially among alder and cottonwood. Its cap is bellshaped, brown and wrinkled, and is only attached at the top of the stem. The stem is thick and white, and stuffed with fine cottony threads. Although commonly collected and eaten, it can cause gastric upset in some.

Traveling in Forested Areas After a Fire is Walking on Dangerous Ground

Ash Pits.
A hole in the ground filled with ash, possibly containing hot embers beneath. It may be imperceptible from the ground above, and can remain dangerous long after flames and smoke are no longer visible. Ash pits may look like solid ground on the surface, but underneath can be inches to feet deep of smoldering ash.
Ash pits
Duff layer.
A layer of moderately to highly decomposed leaves, needles, fine twigs, and other organic material found between the mineral soil surface and litter layer of forest soil. The duff that held tree roots in place has now been burned away leaving trees very unstable.

Hazard Trees
Trip Hazards
Fire has burned underneath trails in many areas leaving holes in and alongside of trails. Exposed roots have also been left behind since duff has been burned away.
Trip Hazard

Download: After the Fire Swan Lake Safety Brochure