Burn area assessment begins on Caldor Fire
After a large wildfire, sometimes special actions are necessary to provide for public safety and protect critical natural and cultural resources on national forest system lands. Loss of vegetation exposes soil to erosion, runoff may increase and cause flooding and sediment may move downstream, damaging roads and infrastructure or putting endangered species and cultural resources at risk.
The Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response program addresses these situations on forest lands with the goal of guarding the safety of forest visitors and employees and protecting federal property and critical natural or cultural resources from further damage.
A BAER team has been established by the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and the Eldorado National Forest to begin a burned area assessment of the Caldor Fire. BAER assessments are rapid evaluations of the burned area used to identify unacceptable risks on forest lands from post-fire threats and to assist land managers with preparing burned areas for rainstorms.
The team’s focus is on the emergency actions necessary to protect human life and safety, property and critical natural and cultural resources. The team shares burned area information from the assessment with other federal, state and local agencies. Agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Weather Service and U.S. Geological Survey have post-fire responsibilities on state and private lands both within and downstream of burned areas. A state watershed emergency response team is evaluating burned private and state lands. Both teams will be sharing information and data as they complete their assessments and subsequent reports.
BAER teams consist of scientists and specialists including hydrologists, geologists, soil scientists, engineers, botanists, biologists, archeologists and geographic information specialists. Teams collect data during ground and aerial surveys and complete GIS and modeling to evaluate post-fire risks. The first step in the BAER assessment process is taking pre-fire and post-fire satellite imagery and data collected during ground surveys to produce a soil burn severity map. The soil burn severity provides the baseline information to determine changed watershed conditions for assessing potential watershed impacts from wildfires. This information is then compiled and presented to forest leadership along with recommended BAER emergency stabilization treatments in a BAER assessment report.
Rainstorm runoff is sometimes, but not always, increased on burn scars. BAER reports are shared with interagency cooperators who work with downstream private homeowners and landowners to prepare for potential post-fire flooding and debris flow impacts. Homes or businesses that could be impacted by flooding from federal land that resulted from wildfires may be eligible for flood insurance coverage from the National Flood Insurance Program.
Information about NFIP is available through FEMA at fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program or floodsmart.gov/wildfires. Other flood preparedness information is available at ready.gov/floods at floodsmart.gov/.
Anyone near or downstream of burned areas should remain alert and stay updated on weather conditions that may result in heavy rains over the burn scars. Flash flooding can occur quickly during heavy rain events. Weather and emergency notifications can be found at the National Weather Service website at weather.gov/sto/.
Source: USDA Forest Service
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