Why Is Erosion Control Important After a Wildfire?

Forest fire, Wildfire burning tree in red and orange color at night

Wildfires are unfortunately becoming more common every year. These devastating events are not just destructive while the flames are raging – they can also be catastrophic long after the smoke clears without erosion control.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, 8.6 million acres of land were destroyed by wildfires in 2020 (compared to 4.6 million in 2019). These fires can be too costly for homeowners and landowners, even with insurance. In 2018 alone, over $24 billion in the land was lost due to destruction from wildfires.

However, much of this property can be saved from further damage and loss through erosion control methods and proper planning. But you may be wondering: what do wildfires have to do with erosion control?

Let’s dive in.

The Link Between Wildfire and Erosion

First, it is essential to understand how wildfires lead to land erosion.

Fire burns away the vegetation and ground cover over the land, which includes the grass and plants. This vegetation protects the soil from drying out and keeps the dirt beneath it secure yet soft. However, once this ground cover is destroyed, the soil beneath is exposed to the elements. Further, the extreme heat from the fire dries out the moisture.

This results in the ground becoming dry and hard, which loosens up the soil. If it rains, snows, or is too windy; the soil can start to separate and crumble. This leads to erosion where land is lost as it flows away with water or grinds down a cliffside. Ultimately, this can cause flooding, landslides, mudslides, and falling sediment.

Why Is Erosion Protection So Important?

Landslide repair, erosion control

Wildfires and erosion can completely devastate areas that serve as homes for people, wildlife, and other natural resources. Water sources can also be destroyed through erosion as the sediment often settles into lakes, rivers, and ponds.

The US Geological Survey estimates that one-third of the country’s watersheds could be nearly filled with sediment due to wildfire-caused erosion. This would lead to a reduced water supply for nearby communities and harm the ecosystems in the area. Erosion control is necessary, especially considering that 65% of the water supply for the western United States is near fire-prone areas.

Erosion can also cause structures to collapse, and every year many people are injured or even killed due to erosion-related events. If a storm or heavy rainfall rolls in after a wildfire, the ground is prone to forming a landslide. This can easily wipe out homes, paved roads, trees, and vehicles.

Finally, erosion can harm the environment by removing foliage that feeds, houses, and protects wildlife in the area. Animals living in forests and wooded areas destroyed by fire are left vulnerable as they search for new land.

What Can Be Done After a Wildfire?

Thankfully, there are many solutions for erosion control in areas after a wildfire. These tactics can protect homes and other buildings from the dangers of landslides or falling debris while also providing the land needed to prevent further damage.

Here are just a few erosion control methods that can be used for added protection after a wildfire.

Coverage

First, it is essential to cover the areas that are vulnerable to erosion, such as cliffsides, hills, and arid and brittle land areas. Erosion control blankets, netting, or matting can be placed and secured on sloped land to slow down runoff and hold the ground in place. These blankets and matting are made of natural fibers (typically straw), healthy yet biodegradable.

erosion control blanket

Areas full of the loose ground like gravel or dry soil can also be covered with riprap (rubble made of limestone and granite) or gabions (galvanized, steel-wire mesh cages). Sandbags or buffer strips can also be put down to trap sediment and control water flow.

Stabilization

Ditches and runoff areas where water will collect should be stabilized with wattles or geotextile fabric for added support. This will prevent these areas from crumbling when under pressure, such as during storms and rainfall.

Retaining wall systems should be built into any sloped areas for added stabilization. It is best to choose an interlocking retaining wall system with built-in drainage pipes and soil stabilization. This will provide the most stability and protection.

Protection

Large patches of areas dried out from the fire should be covered with straw matting to prevent it from drying out further from the sun’s heat. This will also naturally decompose, helping to nourish the ground beneath and allow for new foliage to be planted.

Hydromulch or weed-free mulch is best because this will help to stabilize the ground beneath – while also locking in moisture. Once the soil has been nourished, it is time to replenish the land as much as possible. Seedlings and grass should be planted, along with saplings of trees that are common to the area. This will help to reverse deforestation caused by the fires and strengthen the land underneath with roots.

Planning

It is also wise for homeowners and landowners to plan for future events and be as prepared as possible in future wildfires. It is essential to keep the land well-watered and tend to any areas at risk of erosion. Laying down jute netting, mulch, new grass, and even erosion control blankets ahead of time can help to protect the land from future damage.

jute netting

Homeowners should also consider implementing new construction and landscaping design for erosion control methods. This type of investment could prevent land loss from erosion if another wildfire destroys the land. Erosion control is essential for more reasons than monetary ones – although preventing decay can save landowners in the long run.

Conclusion

Wildfires are, unfortunately, a more common occurrence than ever before. Sometimes, there is little to nothing that will stop them. But we can do many things to prevent erosion from making matters worse.

The secret to effective erosion control is strategic design and proper planning, especially around your own home. Central Home Supply is here to help by providing top-quality building materials and landscaping supplies. Our goal is to create erosion control structures to keep your home and property protected. We offer a wide variety of retaining wall supplies, soil & mulch, and other construction supplies, which can be used for erosion control methods.

To learn more about erosion control landscaping or to place an order, contact our team today.

Reed Santee