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Individual Highlight

Bark Beetles and Wildfires: New Tools Provide Insights

Photo of FIRETEC simulations of fire perimeter and fuel consumption through time for pinyon-juniper woodland during the green, red, and gray phases of a pinyon Ips bark beetle attack. Time proceeds from left to right. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.FIRETEC simulations of fire perimeter and fuel consumption through time for pinyon-juniper woodland during the green, red, and gray phases of a pinyon Ips bark beetle attack. Time proceeds from left to right. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : Bark beetles have affected millions of acres of western forests and sometimes contribute to highly unpredictable fire behavior. Two new models improve understanding of bark beetle effects on fire behavior.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Sieg, Carolyn H.  
Research Location : Western U.S.
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 939

Summary

Bark beetles have affected millions of acres of western forests and sometimes contribute to highly unpredictable fire behavior. Fire fighters are increasingly being exposed to fires burning in mixtures of dead and live trees in bark beetle-impacted forests, yet there is limited understanding of bark beetle effects on fire behavior.

Two new physics-based models, the Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS) and HIGRAD/FIRETEC, are providing insights into how and why bark beetle-caused tree mortality affects fire behavior in ways that operational models cannot. For example, these models can provide insights into how fires might behave under fluctuating winds, in mixtures of varying fuel moistures such as bark beetle affected forests, or in areas with a heterogeneous distribution of surface and canopy fuels.

Physics-based fire models are providing insights to better understand how and why bark beetle caused mortality alters fire behavior and identify “watch out” situations for firefighters. Research to date has revealed that bark beetle-impacted forests can exhibit rapid rates of spread through time even under moderate fire weather conditions with relatively low winds. This work is helping to inform current and future land managers whom are dealing with large areas impacted by bark beetles as well as guide new experiments and measurements related to the effects of bark beetle mortality on fire behavior.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Pacific Northwest Region, Forest Health Protection
  • Pacific Northwest Research Station
  • Southwest Region, Forest Health Protection
  • Colorado State University
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • University of Idaho

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