Stunning discovery by USFS and AP: dead trees burn faster

Yeegads.

The serial regurgitation in media is impressive.  Here’s the money quote:

And the new research dispels the notion that beetle-killed trees present no greater fire danger than live ones, a theory that had gained traction after a couple of wet, cool summers tamped down fire activity in the region, Jolly said. On the contrary, beetle-killed trees can hold 10 times less moisture than live trees, Jolly found. That means they not only ignite more quickly than live trees, but they burn more intensely and carry embers farther than live trees, Jolly said.

I’m not trying to make fun of the pine beetle threat, which is serious, but it seems pretty darned obvious to anyone who has ever has a Christmas tree or seen one of those fire department Christmas tree videos that brown dead pine trees burn quite a bit faster than green ones.

While a model for such a thing in wildlands might be useful, it would seem an almost impossible fire to fight.

Dead pine trees, whether beetle killed or by something else, burn much faster than live ones. On the plus side the article does not mention climate change or global warming.

Full AP story here h/t to reader Steve Keohane

Advertisements

  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Latitude

will wonders never cease…………….
Did anyone think they would live long enough to see science advance this far?

Fred from Canuckistan

One man’s climate science is another man’s blinding flash of the obvious.

Steeptown

Obvious really. It’s why I dry logs for at least two years before feeding them to the wood-burner. And I worked it out for myself without a big grant from the taxpayer.

D. J. Hawkins

While a model for such a thing in wildlands might be useful, it would seem an almost impossible fire to fight.

The utility of the model lies in being able to estimate the rate of fire spread. You don’t want to drop your fire jumpers somewhere under the impression they have “x” hours to work on a fire break and then bug out and suddenly find it’s “x/2” or “x/4” and no matter how fast they move they can’t reach the ridgeline, creek, pond, lake, or other area of refuge ahead of the fire.

J. Knight

Hahaha…don’t any of these people have fireplaces? Or common sense for that matter? Those are not trick questions.

James Sexton

lol, well, thank goodness we’ve got some real scientists at work here, else we’d have never figured out that dead pine trees carry as significant fire risk…….. I should be thankful though, at least they’re stating something factual.

grayman

No DUH!! I wonder how much money they recieved to come up with this?
Anybody with common sense knows this.

Frederick Davies

How many millions did it take to “discover” this!?

View from the Solent

They seem to have overlooked the more important question.
Do pine beetles’ depredations affect the daefecatory habits of the species Ursidae?

Monty Python – “I have a theory”:

Tom Gray

We burn fire wood for heat here. We let the wood dry for a year after cutting. Do you think we should submit this finding to Nature?

What we really must do is find the official quotes that say that pine beetle killed stands are no more of a wildfire hazard than green trees.
I have heard rumors of such statements from Forest Service and Dept of Interior people who discount the need for agressive logging of the killed stands. But I have no links to such statements or arguments.
One of many hill sides of killed lodgepole forests:
http://www.panoramio.com/photo/25321843 – Looking East from Silverthorn, CO, Aug. 2009

John R T

Nit-picking: how can this absurdity exist – ¨…can hold 10 times less moisture than…¨!
Why the extra words? the tortured construction? What is wrong with, ´one-tenth the moisture?´ Even ´an order of magnitude drier than?´

kbray in California

Does this mean seasoned firewood will burn better than fresh cut green wood?
DUH !
What ever happened to “common sense” with these guys ?
Even less sense comes from those who approve the funding for these “studies”.
I have one:
Will honey melt faster in hot tea or iced tea ?
That should be good for some bucks.
I’ll use GREEN TEA. That should qualify.

joe

And the new research dispels the notion that beetle-killed trees present no greater fire danger than live ones, a theory that had gained traction after a couple of wet, cool summers tamped down fire activity in the region, Jolly said.
who is saying this? i’ve never heard it….
what i have heard is that the enviros try to prevent the logging and removal of these dead trees despite the increased fire danger…

dmartin

This goes a long way toward explaining why I’ve had such little success with my backyard flamethrower consisting of a lighter and my garden hose.

Person of Choler

What I’d like to know is who came up with “…the notion that beetle-killed trees present no greater fire danger than live ones….”, in the first place.
That guy needs some serious scoffing more than Mr. Jolly does.

Vegasarcher

I was at the office and could not stop myself from bursting out laughing!!!

Milwaukee Bob

Seeptown said at 8:35 am
…… And I worked it out for myself without a big grant from the taxpayer.
See, there’s your problem. 🙂 That’s why you’ll never be a “researcher”!!
It’s NOT what you know, it’s how good you are at “identifying” a problem and getting money to study the problem. And to be recognized as a really GREAT researcher you don’t even have to solve the problem. Just do a stellar study and report.
Oh, and if you throw in a little theory on how it effects Localized Climate Disruption — and the children in Africa, you might be put up for a Nobel.

I also have several theories! Might write some papers regarding:
1-Humid rainforests burn slower that mediterranean forests
2-Forests burn faster in Summer than in Spring
3-Forests burn slower in Spring than in Summer (same as before, but who would notice?)
4-Forests burn slower a week after a preceding fire
Duh!
Ecotretas

Jeff Carlson

maybe they should have spent the money to study a way to kill off the beetles …

DonS

Fire fighters study the nature of fires in all flammable materials all the time. Just seems prudent to me. The firefighters who do not concern themselves with fire behavior prediction are known as dead heroes. We here in Montana have had enough of those. Go read the quotes from the USFS again with this understanding. All these fatuous statements about firewood don’t have a damn thing to do with staying alive in an exploding forest fire.
Has the pine beetle increase been associated with global warming? You bet. Google “pine beetles global warming”.

Roy

My son and I would let our Christmas tree dry for at least a month or two before we torched it outside-
Amazing results!
Don’t have video, but really fun to watch on a foggy night!

MattN

They needed a study for this? Seriously?

Martin Brumby

Jolly good science. Obviously.

Theo Goodwin

Being the son of a genuine forester, someone who mastered all the arts of forestry from surveying tracks of timber to delivering boards to the finishing operation, I am so deeply offended by this study that I could not look its authors in the eyes. The authors might have the bodily stature of adults but they think like pampered children and their words reveal that they have no experience whatsoever. But wait, maybe they do have experience but do not know what to make of it. I wonder if they would recognize the word ‘kindling’ (kinlin’) or if they could describe what makes good kinlin’. So this is what government forestry has come to: a huge embarrassment to the country and an offense to anyone who knows the forest.
As regards the topic of their essay, anyone who cannot survey a forest from a ranger tower fifty feet tall and tell you exactly where the beetle infestations are and how each and every part of that forest will burn is no forester.

pat

I hope this ‘study’ did not take more than $50 and was conducted by the 5th Grade science class at Jefferson Elementary School. But I suspect Mann was the lead and it costs $2M.

Mike

Person of Choler says: May 2, 2011 at 9:03 am “What I’d like to know is who came up with “…the notion that beetle-killed trees present no greater fire danger than live ones….”, in the first place. … That guy needs some serious scoffing more than Mr. Jolly does.”
Perhaps some anti-science blogger was spreading this disinformation.

Theo Goodwin

DonS says:
May 2, 2011 at 9:23 am
“Fire fighters study the nature of fires in all flammable materials all the time. Just seems prudent to me. The firefighters who do not concern themselves with fire behavior prediction are known as dead heroes.”
When I was a teenager, I got a job in a mobile home factory. It was pretty large. The day I was hired, a manager arrived from across the plant to meet me. He told me that he just had to see me because, as he said, “Your daddy was the best mule driver in these parts.” In forestry, if you don’t walk the walk then it does not matter what you talk.

Mike

I believe the point of this research is to qualify the impact and eventually produce better models of how a fire might spread to aid fire fightings and planners. You can make fun of the headline if you like, but this work may safe lives and property.

Steve Oregon

I ran an experiment in my back yard years ago when my daughter was about 8 years old. Our house was new and the large back yard was nothing but dirt.
So after Christmas I took down the large tree we had and stood it up in the middle of the yard.
That night I had the wife and daughter come outside as I lit the base of it.
The immediate eruption in flames lit up the whole rural area and one of our few neighbors called 911.
Siren and fire truck followed with firefighters inspecting my experiment.
They concluded it was completely safe, in an allowed burn area and highly educational for the little one.
FYI here is another obvious study outcome.
“A new study shows about one-fourth of the people killed in assisted suicides in Oregon were depressed, yet they received lethal cocktails anyway. Researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University conducted the study and skeptic say it shows the guidelines in the assisted suicide law don’t work.”
What? Are they supposed to be optimistic?

Douglas DC

Well this is one subject that I know a bit about. For ten years (roughly) I was an
Aerial Firefighter. Spent a lot of time fighting killed lodgepole pines, two things:in recent years there is an increasing reluctance to fight fires by the USFS/BLM.
Closing of roads, cutting back on fire crews and Aircraft. Ok fine, I’m actually a supporter of a sane “Let Burn ” Policy. Secondly, any work that has been done by
“Ecologists” usally means-AGW supporters/funding. Rather focus on why things get out of hand due to some chimera causation look at the source: Dead trees and what is killing them. Lodgepole is a succession tree i.e. the first thing back from a fire. They thrive on fire. the need fire to germinate the seeds. We indeed did screw things up by fighting every fire that came along. We need now to thin and do real forestry, rather than throw our hands up and say:”Gaia’s will!”… BTW we used to spray for Pine Beetles.

ShrNfr

Did they obtain carbon permits to conduct that experiment that emitted CO2?

Mike Bromley the Kurd

I stopped reading at “model”

Matthew W.

This goes in the “Water is wet” discovery bin

J. Knight

I have 60 acres of pine trees in southern Arkansas. When we get pine beetles, the single most important thing you can do is cut the diseased trees and get them to market ASAP. That makes them a)less of a fire hazard, b)allows one to get some value from the resource, and c)helps the job market.

Laurence M. Sheehan, PE

What is most obvious is that far more people with PhDs exist than there is any useful work for them to do. This sort of study is no less than a monumental waste of taxpayer money, or to put it mildly, welfare for people with degrees and welfare for universities.

Dave Wendt

As a possible silver lining to this scientific black cloud, it appears that they are now using all that public grant money to report on things that are obviously true. You have to admit it’s a step in the right direction from all those years of reporting on things that were obviously not true.

Stephen Wilde

Beetle killed trees burn faster than other dead trees because the air in the beetle drilled tunnels aids combustion.
No need for a model or research grants to work that out.

PRD

Educate the public –
If you live where fires burn don’t have a bunch of highly flammable ornamental crap growing against your home, your home will burn. Roofing shingles are made of tar: tar is made from crude oil which…. burns. Metal or clay tiles, won’t burn. Nor does stucco, plaster, or brick especially when backed by concrete + glass fiber board.
If homes are surrounded by open and very short grass for 300 feet and constructed from non-flammable, or ignition resistant materials, then the fire crews can concentrate on protection of things that matter. The century old practice of fighting every little smoker has:
1. Created the pine beetle problem by allowing their food and hiding spots to increase in density.
2. Given folks too much security in expecting that they can build huge subdivisions in fire prone areas and be protected.
3. Created this old worn out icon that needs to be shot, stuffed, and put into a museum. (with apologies to the poster with the same title)

This is a revelation! A great day for science! Now, if only science could tell me if water is wet, if pain hurts, and if the sun is bright.

Theo Goodwin

Mike says:
May 2, 2011 at 9:43 am
“I believe the point of this research is to qualify the impact and eventually produce better models of how a fire might spread to aid fire fightings and planners. You can make fun of the headline if you like, but this work may safe lives and property.”
Given some reasonable vantage point such as a mountain, tower, or helicopter, if you cannot view a forest fire and see immediately what can and what cannot be done then you are lost. And to think that a forester would be surprised by the burning behavior of tracts of trees is just mind boggling.
There is nothing that a forester could learn from a model. Of course, maybe a model of tree behavior in some exotic location might be of use to a forester. But the number of foresters who voluntarily leave the region where they learned their trade is tiny, almost nonexistent.
If there is a rational explanation for the use of models in the forest service then it must be that some parts of the service are hiring smoke jumpers from a pool of people who have parachute experience but no forestry experience. I guess you could use models to provide some kind of training to people who are complete idiots about forests.
Of course, I should also say that my experience has been east of the Mississippi where no forest fires have gotten out of control in my lifetime. By contrast, firefighters out West seem to be constantly struggling with one or another variety of forest fire disaster, despite the aircraft and other heavy machinery not needed east of the Mississippi. Maybe there is a difference of culture and just maybe the fire fighters out West should hire some fire fighters from east of the Mississippi to provide fire control and to install a new culture of fire fighting. Of course, along with fire fighters they would also need new forest management.

Garry

It’s not surprising that the US Forest Service in Helena studies such things – in fact all things fire – because that’s where the study of the infamous and deadly 1949 Mann Gulch fire was written, to subsequently become the basis for Norman Maclean’s stunning final book “Young Men And Fire.” (Maclean was the author of “A River Runs Though It.”)
I’m sure that Maclean’s son John would also appreciate this study, since he followed his father with the book “Fire on the Mountain” about the equally deadly 1994 Storm King blowup.
Both fires involved pine trees.

a reader

A question for the chemists and people involved in industry who frequent WUWT–pines are very rich in hydrocarbons and resins and turpentine if I remember correctly. So much so that the wood can be distilled for liquid fuel or even “tapped”. So as the wood dies does the flammability actually decrease as the wood decays?

Theo Goodwin

Tom Gray says:
May 2, 2011 at 8:51 am
“We burn fire wood for heat here. We let the wood dry for a year after cutting. Do you think we should submit this finding to Nature?”
Absolutely. Most likely, they will ask what advantage aged wood has over virgin wood.

One of the links on the linked page may be of some interest too:
Shrinking funds pull plug on alien search devices
Cash-strapped governments, it seems, can no longer pay the interstellar phone bill.

Theo Goodwin

a reader says:
May 2, 2011 at 10:42 am
“So as the wood dies does the flammability actually decrease as the wood decays?”
Flammability increases greatly for a year or two after death as the wood “dries.” Then the process of rotting becomes dominant and flammability decreases steadily. Truly rotten wood is worthless as fuel.

DesertYote

So areas with high beetle population would have a larger number of dead trees thus having a high rate of fire thus killing beetles. At work, can’t post more 🙁

Gareth Phillips

When the tree is infected by the beetle, the tree exudes copious amounts of resin which I understand is extremely flammable. If a stand of trees that died from say, drought, is compared to a stand of trees that have died from beetle infestation, the beetle infested group will be more incendiary than the non-infected group by a large margin. Maybe the piece should be read in the light of that fact.

Steve from rockwood

It would be nice if all trees dried out after they die. Certainly the pine and cedar at my place do. But after cutting down some dead birch trees this weekend I was amazed at how much water they can hold. One tree was so rotten it broke into pieces as it was falling. Same for some hemlock trees.
Don’t look for out of control birch forest fires any time soon.
My problem with the pine beetle is why do they only reforest with pine trees anyway? Are they surprised when the entire pine-only forest is covered with pine beetles?