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Burned areas in Gorge face long recovery

It could be decades or even centuries for areas that burned in the Columbia River Gorge to fully recover naturally. (KATU Photo)

Those who live, work and play in the Columbia River Gorge were relieved this week to learn the Eagle Creek fire burned in a mosaic pattern.

While there are definitely areas that look like a scorched, barren landscape, other locations escaped relatively unscathed. For the areas that did burn, a completely natural recovery can take decades or even centuries.

"The forest recovers naturally," said John Bailey, a professor of fire management at Oregon State University. "If it was an area that we didn't go into, that burned severely, every tree is dead, sooner or later it will be a forest again."

Most people know that trees take a long time to reach maturity. It's also true that most people love forests filled with tall trees. In that regard, wildfire recovery can be agonizingly slow for people. But signs of life after a forest fire often appear very quickly.

"You will see grasses and shrubs almost immediately after the first rains," said Shawn Sheldon, an incident commander working on the Eagle Creek fire.

A KATU crew visited land burned in the "36 Pit" fire of 2014. Thousands of acres were scorched along Highway 224 in Clackamas County. But three years later, there's significant growth occurring.

In some cases, land managers may decide to speed along forest recovery through planting and seeding efforts. It's still too soon to say what kind of recovery options will be used on land burned by the Eagle Creek fire.

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