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Firefighter Observations of “Surprising” Fire Behavior in Mountain Pine Beetle-Attacked Lodgepole Pine Forests

Author(s): Kevin Moriarty, Anthony S. Cheng, Chad M. Hoffman, Stuart P. Cottrell, Martin E. Alexander
Year Published: 2019

The recent mountain pine beetle outbreak affecting lodgepole pine forests in the Rocky Mountains has created a novel fire environment for wildland firefighters. This paper presents results from an examination of firefighters’ observations of fire behavior in post-outbreak 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 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.

Citation: Moriarty, Kevin; Cheng, Antony S.; Hoffman, Chad M.; Cottrell, Stuart P.; Alexander, Martin E. 2019. Firefighter observations of “surprising” fire behavior in mountain pine beetle-attacked lodgepole pine forests. Fire 2(2):34. https://doi.org/10.3390/fire2020034
Topic(s): Human Dimensions of Fire Management, Human Factors of Firefighter Safety
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 19750
FRAMES RCS number: 58093
Record updated: Jul 16, 2019