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Trees killed by bark beetles helping fuel wildfires

Bark beetles have killed millions of trees, making it easier for wildfires to burn through dead wood.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Fire managers on the Bootleg Fire have mentioned beetle killed timber as one of their concerns as crews work to contain the massive wildfire in Southern Oregon. Trees killed by bark beetles are helping fuel the fire.

“What happens is these infestations of beetles, the beetles go in, and if they're not stopped, they literally destroy and kill a forest,” said KGW Chief Meteorologist Matt Zaffino. “They get under the bark and they kill the tree.”

It’s easier for the beetles to do that when there’s a drought, Zaffino said. Oregon’s extreme level of drought and historic heat from earlier this summer made for an early wildfire season.

“When there's a drought, the trees produce less sap,” said Zaffino. “Sap is one of the trees’ defenses against beetles. And when they don't have the moisture, they can't produce as much sap. And so they're more susceptible to beetle kill.”

The Gearhart Mountain Wilderness in Southern Oregon, on the border between Klamath and Lake counties, is in the grips of the Bootleg Fire and a big area of beetle kill, Zaffino explained. The trees are dead, and they make for prime wildfire fuel.

“So this is one of the areas of concern with the fire managers down on the Bootleg,” Zaffino said. “It really is something that they are working on and have been mentioning in the reports day after day.”

Watch Matt Zaffino explain how the Bootleg Fire is moving into beetle-killed forest.

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