Firefighters report “surprising” fire behavior in beetle-attacked lodgepole forests

surprising fire behavior beetle-attacked lodgepole forest fires
The researchers interviewed senior firefighters who worked on 13 wildfires in beetle-attacked areas of Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming between 2010 and 2012. Image from the research. Click to enlarge.

In 28 interviews of experienced wildland firefighters of seven different agencies in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming researchers asked them about their observations of fire behavior in beetle-attacked lodgepole pine forests, with a focus on what they considered surprising from a fire behavior standpoint and how this in turn affected their suppression tactics. The interviews focused on 13 wildfires that occurred during the 2010 through 2012 fire seasons.

Below is an excerpt from a paper written by the researchers:

“The surprises in fire behavior experienced by firefighters during the red phase of post-outbreak forests included an elevated level of fire spread and intensity under moderate weather and fuel moisture conditions, increased spotting, and faster surface-to-crown fire transitions with limited or no ladder fuels.

“Unexpectedly, during the gray phase in mountain pine beetle-attacked stands, crown ignition and crown fire propagation was observed for short periods of time. Firefighters are now more likely to expect to see active fire behavior in nearly all fire weather and fuel moisture conditions, not just under critically dry and windy situations, and across all mountain pine beetle attack phases, not just the red phase. Firefighters changed their suppression tactics by adopting indirect methods due to the potential fire behavior and tree-fall hazards associated with mountain pine beetle-attacked lodgepole pine forests.”

Download the research paper (1 Mb)

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

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