Beetles are getting the blame for sparking the deadly wildfires that have engulfed more than four million acres of land in the state of California. The insects are said to have chewed their way through millions of trees across western North America, which left them with parched land and dry timber during the dry season.
Although scientists and environmental researchers strongly point to climate change being the cause of a five-year drought in the area, state authorities claim many trees have died due to the presence of bark beetles.
Cal Fire Public Information Officer Daniel Berlant said the Creek Fire scorched more than 390,000 acres as massive amounts of pine trees have already been dead and dry due to drought over the years.
The US Forest Service estimates that 90 percent of the trees that burned were dead trees eaten up by bark beetles which easily provided fuel to the blaze, the Daily Mail reported.
According to experts, climate change sparked the drought resulting in stressed and parched trees that rendered them vulnerable to being eaten up by these creatures.
National Geographic said the link between timber that has been killed by bark beetles and wildfires could also depend on the type of forest affected. In some areas, beetles are found to be beneficial.
The wildfires in California cannot be applied to the forest in the Rockies or the Pacific Northwest as Pine beetles, another US native insect, eat their way through older, weaker trees, which makes room for a healthier forest.
In the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest, research data suggests that a beetle infestation actually reduces wildfire incidents. The type of fire that razes through these forests are known as crown fires. This takes place when flames travel just on top and along the canopy. When beetles eat through these trees, the needles and branches die and fall to the ground, thereby leaving nothing for flames to latch on to.
On the other hand, experts say humans have changed the landscape by filling land with fuel and densely packed trees. As more vegetation moved in, it forced trees to compete for nutrient sources which left them stressed and open for the bark invaders.
The US Department of Agriculture has estimated more than 129 million trees have died since 2010 as a result of years of the deadly combination of drought and bark beetle infestations.