Greenwire: “Dead timber forces Western firefighters to change strategy”

From Greenwire… We’ve hashed this over here before, but here’s another go…. The threat of falling timber to firefighters, and the treat of snags falling across fire lines, is not an ecological issue, but one of physical safety and the ability to hold a fire line. I have seen burning snags fall across lines and put fire in the “green.” I’ll bet the FFs on the Chetco Bar fire, which is burning in portions of the 2002 Biscuit Fire and the 1987 Silver Fire, have lots of snags and downed trees to contend with.

Dead timber forces Western firefighters to change strategy

A buildup of about 6.3 billion dead trees standing in the western United States has forced firefighters to change tactics.

Dead trees are unpredictable in fires, prone to blowing over or falling unexpectedly and taking other trees with them.

To avoid the threat, firefighters often build containment lines farther from the fire, allowing the flames to burn longer.

“When we do that, fires get bigger, and often they burn longer,” said Bill Hahnenberg, a veteran Forest Service incident commander. “So that’s one of the trade-offs fire managers have had to go to.”

Since 1987, falling trees have killed 13 firefighters and injured five, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.

Dead timber has spiked since 2010 due to massive beetle infestations that account for about 20 percent of Western tree deaths. Five years ago, there were 5.8 billion dead trees standing. Crowded forests, drought and warming temperatures have allowed the beetles to proliferate (AP/New York Times, Sept. 7). — NB

2 thoughts on “Greenwire: “Dead timber forces Western firefighters to change strategy””

  1. There are a lot of things not mentioned in this article. FS firefighting strategies have emphasized firefighter safety more since around the early 2000s – even on the Biscuit Fire – lots more indirect line, huge safety zones, and, more recently, the “life first” strategy that recognizes that no one’s life is worth sacrificing for a wildfire. These have all lead to larger fires – not just more dead trees. If you believe the paleo evidence and FVS Climate, we’re going to be seeing a lot more dead trees, and forest management won’t be able to do much about it. Many people see “restoration” as the answer, but given the pace and scale of fires these days (due to a wide variety of reasons, many of them weather-related), a strategy of shaded fuel breaks to help provide a “container” for fires may be a smart thing to do to buy some time. Old fire lines built (and some not used or needed) for the Silver Fire have now been reopened several times for the Biscuit Fire, Collier Fire, and now the Chetco Bar fire. And, after the Biscuit Fire, a set of primary, secondary and tertiary fuel breaks was identified, using a lot of the used and unused Biscuit Fire firelines, and those have been re-used several times now as well. It is proving to be very easy to re-open these lines and light backfires from them because very little material needs to be removed from them before they are usable. Even the giant safety zones are reusable. So, this type of strategy is definitely worth considering as part of the toolbox.


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