Beetle-Killed Trees Change Wildfire Behavior in Montana

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – Veteran wildland firefighters say their job is becoming more dangerous and unpredictable as pine beetles ravage western Montana forests and kill off vast swaths of trees.

In the last week of September, at least six big wildland fires made major runs across western Montana. Several tripled or quadrupled their acreage in one or two days.

A frequent factor was the presence of “red-and-dead” beetle-killed trees. In such fuel-rich environments, fires can jump from tree crown to tree crown — sending firefighters scrambling for safety.

What to do with the dead trees is unresolved.

Logging beetle-killed timber to cut down on fire risk is a low-profit endeavor and carries environmental consequences. But leaving the forest alone leaves the public exposed to increasing fire hazards.

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