- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — If advancing flames, shifting winds, backbreaking work and searing heat weren’t enough, firefighters are now warned of another kind of hazard: swarms of biting and stinging insects drawn to wildfires.

“On a fire line, there is always something trying to bite you, poke you, stick you and sting you,” said Eric Walker, assistant operations manager at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise and a smoke jumper on more than 100 wildfires.

The dangers of fire line insects range from the creepy nuisance of hundreds of pinching bark beetles crawling down shirt collars and pant legs to a face full of stinging bald-faced hornets that can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylactic shock.

In recent years, training for federal, tribal, state and private firefighters at the center administered by the Bureau of Land Management has included sessions on insect hazards.

“Just as insects are attracted to weakened trees in a drought, they can also sense through heat and smoke when trees are in trouble during a fire,” said Dwight Scarbrough, a U.S. Forest Service entomologist. “Environmentally, they know there’s going to be a feast.”

And firefighters often are caught in the chow-line crossfire.

The aim is to encourage firefighters to be aware of the potential hazards of fire bugs, the loose term for the nearly 40 species of insects that are attracted to flames or smoke.

“As highly trained as people are in emergency situations … the training is usually getting them to focus on the problem at hand, such as putting out the fire,” Mr. Scarbrough said. “There’s a whole other world going on around them that may not even be within their peripheral senses, so we’re just trying open that focus up.”

Insects on a “watch-out list” distributed to trainees at the national fire center include varieties of wood-boring beetles that infest drought-ravaged pine and fir forests. Instructors also stress the influence insects have on the growth and structure of forest stands and the intensity and frequency of fires in those stands.

“They are a daily reality,” Mr. Walker said. “You sleep with them, you eat with them, you work with them. You just have to deal with them.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide