The Black Crater Fire that burned 9,400 acres west of Sisters forced the evacuation of 1,500 people, charred private land and might have kept some tourists away.
But from a forest ecosystem perspective on the Deschutes National Forest, the fire wasn't catastrophic, said Bill Anthony, Sisters district ranger. Instead, although it did cause problems in places, much of the fire seems to have cleared out smaller trees and ground fuels from the ponderosa pine forest where it burned.
"Probably 80 to 90 percent of the fire was spotty or underburning, and so in a way very similar to the type of burns that we would do with prescription fire, but with unmanaged conditions," Anthony said.
One difference between the Black Crater Fire and prescribed burns conducted by the U.S. Forest Service was the timing, however. Since the wildfire started in late July, instead of the cooler months when managers conduct prescribed burns, in some places the heat from the ground fire scorched trees, Anthony said. It may take forest managers until spring to determine how many of the scorched trees will survive, he said, but he is optimistic.
"I'm thinking that a lot of the bigger trees are going to survive on a good part of the fire," he said.
Still, approximately 5 percent to 10 percent of the Black Crater Fire was a stand replacement fire, which is when more than three-quarters of the trees die, he said.
Within those hottest burns there was only a very small portions where the fire severely damaged the soils to the point where it will take a long time for the forest to recover, he said.
The fire did burn hotter in spots along Trout Creek, he said, which could need some restoration work to stabilize banks and reintroduce vegetation along the the waterway.
The creek is also an ecological concern to forest managers because it is home to a genetically unique population of redband trout, he said.
Teams of experts that have looked at the burned area will make recommendations on how to restore Trout Creek, Anthony said. They will also identify post-fire emergency issues that threaten life and property, such as floods and road damage, and determine the need for other restoration work.
One area they will take a look at is the ecological threats of invasive species, he said, which can be carried in from fire camps or roads firefighters used.
"In recent years, a good portion of our new invasive weed populations have been the results of fire," Anthony said.
The rapid assessment team will also look at the need for activities such as repairing signs or stabilizing hillsides. Members of the team will also use satellite imagery of the fire-killed timber to see if salvage logging is an economically and ecologically viable option, he said.
While the fire might have had some benefits for public land, it did a lot of damage on private forestlands, said Bob Young, Central Oregon district forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry.
"All in all, we did not want the fire there," he said.
In areas where the fire reached stands of young trees, it killed all of them, he said. The landowner will probably conduct salvage harvests as fast as possible to recover the available timber and use money from the sale to replant trees where necessary.
Still, the money will not be enough to cover the replanting costs, he said, and the landowner has lost the value of harvesting the trees later, when they would be worth more.
Although he can't yet say for sure, Anthony said that the Lake George Fire seems to be more intense than the Black Crater Fire and could result in more areas most of the trees have burned.