It has been a quiet fire season so far. Only two Type 1 incident management teams have had assignments, and there have been none since May 14. That is amazing for late July.
But in many places across the Rocky Mountain area, the number of beetle-killed trees are growing exponentially. Last week I was in Colorado and saw many tracts consisting of hundreds of acres of 95% pine mortality northwest of Denver. When drought, fire weather, and ignition sources line up in these areas in Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and some areas in Canada, firefighters are going to have some stories to tell.
The Missoulian has an article about how the beetle-killed forests will affect firefighting. Read the whole article, but here is an excerpt:
….And that’s the new challenge with beetle-killed forests, according to Bielenberg incident commander Jess Secrest.
“It reduces the chances of catching the fire at the initial attack stage,” Secrest said. “We’ve got ladder fuels all over the ground, so it gets into the (treetop) crowns easier. And the heat released in a bug-kill fire is greater, so we have to cut wider lines, make more water drops, and so on.”
Fire in a healthy, green forest often creeps along the ground, burning grass and shrubs but not mature trees unless a windstorm gives it a boost into the forest canopy. The Bielenberg fire was somewhat unusual for the amount of still-green vegetation on the forest floor – usually inhospitable territory for flames.
But the beetle-killed lodgepole trees provide lots of crisp tinder for the flames and easy access into the tops. And there, they transform into the crowning runs that speed walls of flame across landscapes.
(Stan) Benes (the deputy incident commander at the Bielenberg fire) said earlier this year, incident commanders were briefed on what to expect from the coming fire season.
“One of the themes was we’ll be seeing larger fires with more difficulty,” he said. “And that could be the theme for the rest of our careers. This is going to be with us for a while.”