Date of Award:

5-2014

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Wildland Resources

Advisor/Chair:

Michael J. Jenkins

Abstract

Recent outbreaks of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins) in lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl. ex Loud. var. latifolia Engelm.) forests and spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis Kirby) in Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii Parry ex Engelm.) forests have affected vast areas across western North America. The highlevels of tree mortality associated with these outbreaks have raised concerns amongst fire managers and wildland firefighters about the effects of the tree mortality on fire behavior, particularly crown fire behavior, as crown fires hinder the ability of firefighters to conduct safe and effective fire suppression operations. Current information regarding crown fire dynamics in recently attacked forests is limited to results obtained from simulations employing either inappropriate and/or unvalidated fire behavior models

based on inadequate descriptions of crown fuel flammability. The purpose of this research was to measure and characterize the changes in crown fuel flammability caused y recent bark beetle attack and to describe the implications of these changes on crown fire potential in affected forests.

Results indicated that bark beetle attack causes a significant decline in moisture content and change in chemical composition in lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce tree foliage, which substantially increases foliage flammability. Additionally, it was found that conventional models used to predict the moisture content of fine, dead surface fuels were inappropriate for predicting the moisture content of foliage on mountain pine beetle-attacked lodgepole pine trees during the red stage. Therefore, calibrated operational models and models based on diffusion theory were developed and evaluated that could accurately predict hourly fluctuations in moisture content. The implications of these changes on crown fire potential are dependent upon a host of site specific factors including outbreak duration, severity, and the specific stand characteristics. Based on our results, we believe that current fire behavior models, including popular semi-empirical and physics-based models, are currently inadequate for accurately predicting crown fire potential in forests recently attacked by bark beetles. In order to make significant progress in our understanding of crown fire potential in recently attacked forests, a substantial effort to document wildfire behavior in the field and/or to conduct experimental fires is needed.

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