Tiny Bark Beetles Bring Massive Fire Risk In California Forests

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Tiny insects are becoming big pests for firefighters on the frontlines of California’s wildfires.

Bark beetles are killing off more trees, making a bad fire season in California even worse.

A stump that was once an 80-foot ponderosa pine tree was overrun and killed by the insects in just two weeks.

A long wooden highway winding a deadly path in the woods leads to one culprit.

LINK: Society of American Foresters

“Trees that are attacked by bark beetles generally undergo a rapid decline from green, to soil, to brick red and they’re dead,” said Cal Fire’s Tom Tinsley.

The native insects are no bigger than a grain of rice, but firefighters say they’ve added fuel to both the Wragg and Kyburz fires in recent weeks.

LINK: Bark Beetle Information

“It adds more fuel to a wildfire,” said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. “Having dead trees around your home goes against everything we talk about when we discuss defensible space and the need to have fire clearance around your home.”

Fire officials say you need to look for three key things: first, pitch tubes. They look like blobs of bubble gum, which gives you an idea as to where the insect is attacking the tree. Then, any red or orange discoloration to the bark or foliage. And lastly, if you see “frass” or boring dust on the bark, that means the insect has made it’s way inside.

Firefighters say the best way to reduce bark beetle risk is to check trees regularly and prune them. If any trees are infected, they should be removed.

“It’s clearly an added thing that they’re going to need to be concerned about as we go into the next three to four months,” Tinsley said.

It’s a concern that can be easily axed to fight off a potentially explosive situation.

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