The first thing I noticed as I pulled into my site in the Ohanapecosh Campground after a long day of hiking on Mount Rainier this past July was this burned out tree. Its charred and gutted remains the only sign a fire might have passed through the area. The hollowed out core of the tree was large enough for an adult to stand in, perhaps two if you really squeezed in, and have their picture taken. As I’m sure many have done over the years. I however wished to capture the beauty of the tree’s dead remains in contrast with the much taller still living trees surrounding it. So I set up my tripod opened the shutter and went about setting up camp and cooking dinner while the wooden pinhole camera worked its magic.
The original plan was to take a 50 minute exposure, as the close quarters of the tree’s interior created quite a bit of darkness and I wanted to make sure I captured its wonderful textures. The day’s like was fading rather quickly however, and I also wished to go listen to the nightly talk put on my the Park Ranger. So I simply decided to take a chance and left my camera out unattended, tripling the exposure time hoping for the best. This is something I’d never do with a more expensive camera, but the relative cheapness of a pinhole camera coupled with its rugged durability allows me to take more chances. I absolutely love that about pinhole photography.
I did a bit of searching around the interwebs to see if a fire every moved through the Northeast section of Mount Rainier National Park, and didn’t find anything. So naturally I was curious as to why a tree might burn from the inside out. There wasn’t much of a real discussion on this topic but I was able to piece a few ideas together. If you know more on the subject please feel free to share. Often what happens as a fire sweeps through the forest, it burns hotter around the base of the tree where large amounts of duff (needles, grass, and other plant debris) has collected. This allows it to find a weak spot in the trunk to lighting the tree afire. The bark itself is tough and more fire resistant actually acting as an insulator, similar to a chimney, allowing the fire to slowly burn within the tree. Eventually the tree will gut itself and topple over, which is what happened to the tree picture above.
It also helps explain the possibility of a single tree burning down in an otherwise unscaved forest. You might recall ‘The Senator’ a 118-foot, 3,500 year old bald cypress tree located in Big Tree Park in Seminole County, Florida which sadly burned down earlier this year due to the recklessness of one individual. It too burned from the inside out.
Happy Tree Tuesday everyone! And please remember to do your part to prevent forest fires.