2011-05-05

Firefighters warn new fires burn in mysterious ways

Fire officials in a tri-county area said they’re seeing extreme fire behavior in areas with trees killed by the mountain pine beetle.

Sonny Stiger, a fire behavior analyst, told a group gathered in Helena Wednesday for a forum on the impact of the rice-size beetles, that he’s seeing flame lengths of 200 to 300 feet in places they wouldn’t expect it; they’re experiencing unusual embers being thrown farther ahead of fires and groups of treetops torching; and ponderosa pines’ low-hanging dead branches are creating ladder fuels that allow blazes to spread more rapidly than in the past.

“The kind of things we’re dealing with is one fire grew to three acres in two minutes, 10 to 15 acres in the next eight minutes — that’s moving — and over 100 acres in the first hour,” Stiger said. “So we are experiencing unusual, extreme fire behavior now.”