Knowledge gaps abound in beetle-kill forest fires

Researchers are taking the first steps toward closing wide knowledge gaps in the behavior of wildfires in millions of acres of Western forests devastated by the mountain pine beetle epidemic, a University of Idaho professor said Wednesday.

Over the past decade, the rice-sized beetle has decimated some 9 million acres of forest in the Rocky Mountain West and nearly five times that in Canada. But there is relatively little scientific research into how fire behavior changes in forests with beetle-killed trees, particularly in stands where there is a mix of live and dead trees.

Research has been slow in developing because of the difficulty to conduct fire experiments in forests near populated areas, said professor Jeffrey Hicke. There also are disagreements between existing studies because they often failed to consider the same criteria, he said.