Pine Beetles Complicate Wildland Firefighting

Aug 8, 2012

The Halstead Fire near Stanley has already burned more than 34,000 acres. Many trees that have burned had already been killed by pine beetles.

Pine beetles have emerged as a serious problem for firefighters in the last decade. Russ Parsons works at the Forest Service’s Fire Lab in Missoula, Montana. He says warmer winters and denser forests have contributed to the spread of beetles.

“The beetle kill that is going on in Idaho and Montana and many other parts of the country as well as Canada is really a huge like, big, unprecedented infestation and millions and millions of acres have been affected,” Parsons says.

Beetle-infested trees turn red and die without falling to the ground. And because these dead trees are tinder dry, they become perfect kindling for wildfires. Parsons explains that even beetle-infected trees can look green, but are still extremely flammable.

“We’ve brought that up with fire managers as something to really be on the look-out for because, particularly if you’re seeing green foliage, you don’t really think there’s any added danger,” explains Parsons.

These beetles have caused complex problems for crews battling the Halstead fire outside Stanley. Nearly half of the trees that have burned were already killed by beetles. Parsons estimates that tens of millions of acres have been affected in North America so far.