Daily Mail Online
By STACY LIBERATORE FOR DAILYMAIL.COM
8 October 2020,
Deadly wildfires in California have burned more than four million acres and while many scientists say climate change is to blame, others are also pointing to beetles.
These insects have eaten their way through millions of acres of trees across the western North America, creating heaps of dry timber just waiting to be ignited.
The Creek Fire has scorched more than 309,033 acres and the US Forest Service estimates that up to 90 percent of the trees that fueled the blaze were killed by bark beetles.
Climate change, according to experts, has sparked a five-year drought in the state, resulting in millions of trees stressed without water and vulnerable to these creatures.
Cal Fire Public Information Officer Daniel Berlant said in a video about the Creek Fire: ‘So many of the trees have died creating significant fuel for the fire to burn.’
Over the last five years, the Sierra National Forest lost 36.1 million trees to the same deadly combination.
However, the link between beetle-killed timber and wildfires may also depend on the type of forest, National Geographic reports.
Emily Francis, a postdoctoral researcher in forest ecology at the University of Texas at Austin, told National Geographic: ‘You can’t necessarily say that conclusions drawn from fires in California would apply to forests in the Rockies or the Pacific Northwest.’
And in some areas, beetles are found to be beneficial.
Pine beetles, another US native insect, eats its way through older, weaker trees, which makes room for a healthier forest.
However, climate change has shifted this balance, leaving trees stressed also leaves them open for invaders.
The Sierra Nevada is littered with lower-elevation ponderosa pine forests that are more susceptible to a mass fire, which the highest heat of the wildfire is along its edges and it moves towards unburned areas.
National Geographic states that this forest’s natural state consisted of open grassy areas with large trees spaced apart.
But humans have changed the landscape over the centuries by filling it with fuel and more densely packed trees.
As more vegetation moved in, it forced trees to compete for resources which left them stressed and fair game for the beetles.
In the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest, data suggests that an infestation reduces wildfire incidents.
These forest experience what is called crown fires, which is when flames travel just along the canopy.
When beetles eat through these trees, the needles and branches die and fall to the ground – leaving nothing for flames to latch on to.
Although there is a debate on whether or not beetles are fueling fires, many experts have agreed that climate change is a major factor.
Chad Hoffman, co-director of the Western Forest Fire Research Center at Colorado State University, told National Geographic that it is not just driving ‘the length of the fire season but changing the extremes.’
‘It’s drier, warmer, and fuels can ignite more readily and spread faster.’
The deadly Creek Fire began on September 4 at 10:23am, which officials determined was caused by a gender reveals party.
The fire broke out amid a record-breaking heatwave, with record temperatures of 121 degrees turning the state into a tinder box, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on Sunday night that a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device caused the fire.
The devices are sometimes used to release blue or pink smoke to announce the gender of an expected baby.
Bennet Milloy, spokesman for the department, told DailyMail.com that the people hosting the party were still on the scene when the firefighters arrived.
‘We know how it started because they were still there,’ he said. ‘That, and the fact that there were surveillance cameras in the park.’