Evaluating Potential Fire Behavior in Lodgepole Pine-Dominated Forests after a Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemic in North-Central Colorado

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Western Journal of Applied Forestry

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A mountain pine beetle outbreak in Colorado lodgepole pine forests has altered stand and fuel characteristics that affect potential fire behavior. Using the Fire and Fuels Extension to the Forest Vegetation Simulator, potential fire behavior was modeled for uninfested and mountain pine beetle-affected plots 7 years after outbreak initiation and 10 and 80% projected tree fall using measured and projected fuel and stand characteristics. Under 90th percentile weather conditions, uninfested plots exhibited proportionally more crown fire than infested plots. Plots predicted to have crown fire were composed mainly of nonhost conifer species and had a lower and more continuous canopy than infested plots. Where surface fire was predicted to occur, live lodgepole pine was the only conifer present, and plots had significantly lower tree mortality from fire than plots predicted to have crown fire. Mountain pine beetle-induced changes in stand and fuel characteristics resulted in increased intensity of surface fire behavior. Furthermore, with 80% infested tree fall, potential smoke production was predicted to be higher. Tree species composition of stands pre and postbark beetle outbreak is important when identifying mountain pine beetle-caused changes to potential fire behavior.