Highly Skilled Firefighters Use Blasting to Remove Hazard Trees

Bug kill and severe drought conditions have weakened and killed trees throughout the southeastern US, including North Carolina. On the Boteler Fire, in Clay County, a tiny invasive insect—the hemlock wooley adelgid—has had a devastating effect on established stands of the magnificent eastern hemlock.

Some of these trees are 20 to 30 inches in diameter and up to 100 feet tall. Unlike most trees, which fall to the ground in an arc from their weakest point, dead hemlocks tend to breakup from the interior and collapse as the tree is weakened.

Trees pose a significant hazard to firefighters during firefighting operations. Many firefighters have been killed or severely injured by falling trees or dropping limbs, often without warning. After a fire, hazard trees may remain and continue to be a significant danger to the public hiking and driving through the area.

Because hemlocks crumble and fall apart when felled using traditional techniques, another method has been developed to safely get them down. This method involves highly trained, certified, and skilled firefighters using blasting agents.

To remove hazardous hemlocks on the northern edge of the Boteler Fire—specifically along Chunky Girl Trail, Bruce Ridge, and Nelson Ridge Road—fire managers brought in a US Forest Service blasting team to scout and identify hazard trees suitable for removal with blasting.

Removing eastern hemlock hazard trees around trails and roads in the Boteler Fire will protect people and animals long after the fire is out.

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