Report defies conventional wisdom on pine beetles and wildfire

Steve Gage used to worry about his firefighters getting burned. Now the Type I incident commander wonders if they’ll be clubbed to death before they ever reach a forest fire.

The threat comes from the tiny mountain pine beetle, only not in the way most people think. Beetle-killed trees have undermined decades of fire behavior research – because before they burn, dead trees may silently topple. And an unburned falling tree will kill you just as surely as a burning one.

“Now my big concern is how do we approach the thing,” Gage said. “How do we get people into a fire that’s in the middle of beetle-kill safely? Hike them in? Fly them, or put heavy equipment in front of them? And if we can’t get people in safely, how do we engage when the fire comes out?”