SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KRON) — This past summer, a series of small wildfires sparked by lightning – later named the CZU Lighting Complex – merged into a mega-fire.

Forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains were reduced to ashes.

But these forests are resilient, and scientists with Peninsula Open Space Trust are closely studying and watching how the forests are rebounding.

California’s forests are no strangers to wildfires.

However, even plant species that evolved to be resilient to wildfires will die if the fire burns too intensely hot, for too long.

Dr. Peter Cowan, the director of conservation science for Peninsula Open Space Trust, recently completed a sweeping assessment of some of the areas hardest impacted by the CZU fires.

Photo by Teddy Miller

“The reason why it will take decades for the forests the resemble what they were before it that those trees had not burned in many, many decades. They were rather large trees and the fire burned with such a severity that the top portions of some of the trees, of some species, are dead,” Cowan said.

“For a really large portion of the burn area, it burned with a really high severity,” Cowan said. “When the fire exploded into that complex, it burned at a much higher severity.”

Some species of trees, such as Douglas Firs, took a hard hit from the CZU fire.

Redwoods are the titans of wildfires, and many will regrow with resilience, Cowan said.

Photo by Teddy Miller