Soumya Karlamanla, LOS ANGELES TIMES
Call it a vicious cycle: drought, wildfires and bark beetles.
California’s historic drought stresses trees across the state, making them ideal prey for bark beetles. The insect infestations dry out vegetation further, creating forests that can light up like tinder. Fires then damage more trees, attracting more beetles, and turning more forests brown.
“So we all have to hope for rain,” said Tom Smith, park pest management specialist for the Central and Southern Sierra Region for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Bark beetles probably exacerbated the fire that ravaged Lake County over the weekend, he said. Experts called the Valley fire’s rapid spread unprecedented; the blaze, which began Saturday afternoon, grew to more than 40,000 acres in fewer than 12 hours.
“This last couple years has just been so extreme that everything’s under stress,” Smith said. “If we weren’t in the drought, we wouldn’t have so much bark beetle.”
He said there’s been heavy beetle activity in Lake County, and around Clear Lake, where the Valley fire is blazing. A U.S. Forest Service survey of the region in and around the Bay Area in June found that though tree mortality was increasing almost everywhere, the worst region by far was an area south of the lake.
UC Berkeley fire science professor Scott L. Stephens agreed that bark beetles in the area likely left dead trees ready to go up in flames. “There’s no doubt that’s going to enhance a fire,” he said.
He said that dead pine trees are much easier to catch on fire when they still have their needles, and they don’t lose them until a year after beetles kill them. Though pines that have been dead for years aren’t quick to ignite, the recently killed ones are standing fuel, he said.
Read more at: Meet the insect that helped fuel Northern California’s Valley fire destruction – LA Times