66 million dead trees contribute to fire hazard in California

Dead trees in the Sierra National Forest

Story highlights

  • Dead trees "increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires"
  • Drought, bark beetle and warm temps being blamed for loss

(CNN)There are at least 66 million dead trees in California, according to the U.S. National Forest Service, and they may provide more tinder to the already volatile wildfire situation in the state.

The Forest Service, in a statement released Wednesday, blamed the tree die off on four years of consecutive drought, a "dramatic" rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures.
Bark beetle bore hole damage to a California tree
The trees are located in six counties across 760,000 acres in the southern Sierra Nevada region of the state and could contribute to a more destructive wildfire season.
    Currently, California is battling four active wildfires, including the Border Fire near San Diego that's consumed more than 6,700 acres and is 20% contained. There are no reported fires currently in the Sierra Nevada.
    "Tree dies-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that puts property and lives at risk," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the statement.
    The Forest Service said an additional 26 million trees have been identified since October 2015. That figure was added to 40 million trees that died statewide from 2010 on.
    The trees were counted in Forest Service aerial detection surveys. More are planned in the summer and fall.
      So far over 77,000 "hazard trees" have been cut down by the Forest Service, according to the statement.
      CAL FIRE Chief Ken Pimlott said in a news release that "the sheer number of dead trees is hard to imagine," and urged citizens to remove dead trees from their property.