Mountain Pine Beetles & Wildfire
Pine Beetle Damage Could Fuel Wildfires - Missoulian
Bark Beetles and Fire - New York Times
Lawmakers: Major Colo. Wildfire Only A Question Of Time - USA Today
Beetle Kill Turns Forest Red, Raises Wildfire Risk - Channel 4 Denver
Bark Beetles Kill Trees, Promote Fire - ABC News
Headlines such as above are increasingly heard in the media. It seems logical that an increasing amount of dead flammable material in the forest increases the threat of wildfires. But is it that simple?
Not necessarily according to recent examination of fire research. Several factors come into play when determining wildfire potential and severity. The type of forest, its fuel type and arrangement, the dryness of the fuel, terrain, and weather conditions are the most critical factors. Mortality from mountain pine beetle adds to the amount of fuels on the ground over time. As dead trees fall with post-beetle stand development, “fuel ladders” may be created that may carry fire from the ground to standing trees. It appears, however, that the likelihood of large fires caused by beetle kill is mostly dependent on the occurrence of very dry weather, along with a source and location of ignition, primarily lightning. The time since the mountain pine beetle outbreak is also important because of changes in vegetation and fuels and its arrangement over time in these forests.
The link below references a summary document providing more detailed explanation of what recent fire research shows about the interaction between mountain pine beetle mortality and wildfire.
Although the dead pines from mountain pine beetle do not always create a certain risk of wildfire, there is always the threat that the dead trees pose to firefighters. Over time, dead trees decay and the risk of some trees falling and injuring firefighters increases. An abundance of dead trees adds additional issues and concerns for firefighters as they work to suppress wildfires.