Matthew McDermott got this picture, which was actually part of a video, of a tree burning from within during the devastating fires in Sonoma County last October 9. Many of us saw it in the news. It is actually not as uncommon as it would seem to be. Interior wood is more combustible, and sometimes already well aerated from decay, so can burn if exposed to fire through wounds or cavities, while the exterior of the same tree resists combustion. This is why there are so many big and healthy coastal redwoods with burned out hollow trunks. Of course, trees more commonly burn from the outside.
Once burned, charred wood is resistant to decay. Redwoods and cedars are resistant to decay anyway, so once charred and doubly resistant, they can stand for decades.
When my younger brother and I were little tykes, one such charred cedar lived at our maternal Grandparent’s summer house outside of Pioneer. That is, it ‘lived’ there before it got charred by a fire a very long time before the forest that was there in the early 1970s grew up around it. I never actually saw it living. It was VERY dead long before my time.
The problem was that my younger brother and I did not KNOW for certain that it was dead. It was a big charred trunk at the bottom of the clearing downhill from the house. We could see it from almost anywhere, except from inside or uphill of the house. It was ominous. It was creepy. It seemed to watch us. The rest of the pines, firs, cedars and everything else in the forest was so green and lush; but the big black carcass was always there.
We were not totally afraid though. Our Uncle Bill was there too. He was the greatest superhero in the entire universe! He was bigger and stronger than any man. He was tall enough to hang our swing in the big tall black oak tree. He had already protected us from the bats. (We did not know what bats were, but we knew they were scary.) He breathed smoke, and from a white and gold can with a picture of a waterfall and a horseshoe on it, he drank a magical potion that might have given him some of his superpowers. (My brother and I tried it, but it tasted icky.)
Uncle Bill had a chainsaw.
Uncle Bill started to cut the base of the big dead Tree Monster while everyone else watched from a distance. To us kids, it seemed to take a long time. Eventually, the Tree Monster wobbled a bit, and fell forward towards us, landing on the ground with a big dusty thud. The top broke off and slid a bit farther from the rest of the carcass, which only made the secondary death of the Tree Monster seem that much more violent. After a bit of a pause, my brother and I approached in disbelief. It was twice as dead as it was before! Uncle Bill had killed the dead Tree Monster!
We walked on top of the fallen carcass just to be certain, and found no signs of life. We inspected the low and wide dead stump and found only sawdust. When we looked back at where the Tree Monster had always been, we saw only lush green pine, fir and cedar foliage.
Through the following year, Uncle Bill cut and split the Tree Monster into firewood for my Grandmother to cook with. It kept us warm at night. Uncle Bill kept us safe.