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Over 5,000 trees removed from Medical Lake in one month since Gray fire

Avista said its crews have removed over 5,000 at-risk trees, but even more may have been cut down by firefighters, contractors and landowners.

MEDICAL LAKE, Wash. — Dozens of trees marked with spray painted 'X's line streets of Medical Lake.

As of Monday, it's been one month since the Gray fire erupted, killing one person and destroying hundreds of homes. 

In addition to property devastation, the fire also took a toll on the environment. Flames burned more than 10,000 acres.

Senior communications manager Annie Gannon shared a statement with KREM2 that Avista Utilities crews have removed more than 5,000 trees in the Medical Lake area in the last four weeks:

"Avista is committed to providing safe and reliable service in the Medical Lake area following the impacts of the Gray Fire. Trees may have been cut by firefighting personnel, Avista personnel, landowners, commercial contractors and or volunteer organizations. Part of Avista’s commitment to safe operations includes the removal of dead or structurally compromised trees adjacent to Avista distribution lines that pose a fall in risk during future weather events. These trees are referred to as risk trees. Risk trees were assessed prior to removal by ISA Certified Arborists. Over the last four weeks, crews contracted by Avista have removed over 5,000 risk trees. If you are an Avista customer and have questions regarding risk trees on your property that are adjacent to power lines, please contact Avista at 1-800-227-9187."

The Washington Department of Natural Resources said trees are less likely to survive if less than one-third of their canopies are green. 

Natural resource manager Steve Harris said most trees didn't survive the fire in August.

"We're seeing a lot of morality, Harris said. "Not a lot of green canopy, frankly, out there." 

Harris said it may take at least a century to return to a fully-developed forest. 

"Those ponderosa forests out there were a hundred-plus years old," Harris said. "So it'll take a hundred-plus years more than likely to have trees of that size growing again on those properties. So not in our lifetime will we see this forest be the same." 

Still, there's hope for small growth over the next few years. 

"We can see future forest and seedlings that are growing," Harris said. "In three to five years, we'll see baby trees growing. That's the next generation." 

In early September, DNR and the Spokane Conservation District hosted post-fire assistance meetings for Gray and Oregon Road fire victims. 

The meetings discussed topics like reforestation, forest regulation and assessing tree survivability.

He said Medical Lake homeowners have spent the last month 'salvage logging' to retain valuable parts of their trees before they get infested. 

Based on the level of destruction in Medical Lake, Harris said many in Medical Lake will likely need to replant and start again.

RELATED: Weekend event aims to 'Restore Hope' after wildfire in Medical Lake

RELATED: Spokane law firm launching investigation into Gray Fire

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