New Study Proves High Flammability of Trees Attacked by Pine Beetles

By Beacon Staff

A new scientific study supports what wildland firefighters have long believed – that trees attacked by pine beetles are highly flammable.

A report recently published in the international Elsevier Forest Ecology and Management Journal focuses on the foliage characteristics and flammability of lodgepole pine needles during the early stages of a mountain pine beetle attack. The report was written by research ecologist Dr. W. Matt Jolly with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station in collaboration with seven RMRS co-authors. The full report can be found online.

This new information is significant because wildland fire operations are constantly involved in forests plagued by pine beetles. Hopefully this new report will enhance everyone’s awareness and help ensure the development of safe and effective fire management strategies.

Previously there was little scientific evidence to back up what wildland fire crews could testify to when it came to the physical and chemical changes that occur in lodgepole pine foliage after mountain pine beetles attacked trees. In my four years as a wildland firefighter with the DNRC, I saw tons of pine beetle trees torch like matches in a matter of seconds. It was both spectacular and terrifying at the same time.

Jolly’s new research finally provides evidence that these changes brought on by pine beetles certainly affect the flammability of an attacked tree’s foliage.

From a press release detailing the research:

In this study, Jolly and co-authors Dr. Russ Parsons, Ann Hadlow, Greg Cohn, Dr. Sara S. McAllister, John B. Popp, Dr. Robert Hubbard and Dr. Jose Negron took a “rapid response” approach to the problem managers were having in interpreting conflicting science reports on mountain pine beetle-attacked forest-fire interactions. They combined field sampling, laboratory analysis and bench-scale ignition experiments to prepare this paper. The study contributes key fuels information to existing fire behavior models to better understand how foliage flammability changes during the early stages of mountain pine beetle attack and how an attack will influence the likelihood of crown fire.

The RMRS is one of seven regional units that make up the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development organization. The research is broken into seven science program areas that serve the Forest Service as well as other federal and state agencies, international organizations, private groups and individuals. To find out more about the RMRS go to www.fs.fed.us/rmrs.

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