Whitewater-Baldy Complex BAER Executive Summary
Incident: Whitewater-Baldy Complex BAER Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation
Whitewater Baldy Complex
Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team
Glenwood, Reserve and Wilderness Ranger Districts
Gila National Forest
June 18, 2012
In June of 2012, the Whitewater Baldy Complex burned approximately 290,000 acres (117,359 hectares) of the Glenwood, Reserve, Wilderness, and Black Range Ranger Districts of the Gila National Forest. The Fire started as two separate lightning strike fires near Mogollon Baldy and in the headwaters of Whitewater Creek in the Gila Wilderness east of Glenwood NM. The two fires joined in extreme fire behavior on 5/23/2012 to form the Whitewater Baldy Complex. The fire severely burned large tracts of land across the Gila Wilderness, including the headwaters of Whitewater Creek and Gilita Creek that drain directly into the communities of Glenwood, Alma, and Willow Creek respectively. All of these population centers are situated in the floodplains of drainages affected by the fire. The vegetation, duff and soil that once served to slow and hold water were eliminated as a result of the fire. Steep slopes further aggravate the situation. In fact, the Whitewater Baldy Complex Fire BAER team has modeled and predicted post-fire peak flows for a 25 year 6 hour precipitation event at 140 times the pre-fire flow in Willow Creek. Post-fire flows from a 25 year precipitation event are expected to increase 2-4 times in most of the affected drainages. Additionally, pre-fire erosion rates commonly less than one ton per acre have been modeled post-fire to range from between 20 to over 100 tons per acre. Changes in runoff response compounded by sediment bulking are issues of serious concern for downstream values of human life and property.
Severe damage to critical natural resources, including soil productivity, water quality, watershed health, threatened and endangered species, and critical habitat has resulted from this fire and irreversible damage is expected if management action is not taken in the two watersheds mentioned above, as well as in the Headwaters of the West Fork Gila River, Canyon Creek-Middle Fork Gila River, and Upper Mogollon Creek, Mineral Creek , and South Fork Negrito sixth code watersheds,. The range of post-fire erosion rates greatly exceeds the dominant tolerable loss of 1 to 3 tons per acre. In the wilderness areas proposed for treatment the West Fork and Middle Fork of the Gila, as well as Whitewater and Mogollon Creek, are in nonattainment of water quality standards (303(d) listed) and designated Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRW) which are subject to higher water quality standards. There are an additional sixteen ONRW streams in these watersheds and approximately ten ONRW wetlands. The burn severity was high throughout most of the mixed conifer communities at the tops of many drainages.
As of 6/16/2012 the fire was 56% contained and had burned over 290,000 acres. As the fire suppression team worked to contain the fire, a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team was assembled to assess the severity of the Whitewater Baldy Complex, assess threats to life and property due to the fire or post fire consequences, and what rehabilitation treatment would be required. The BAER team is an interdisciplinary group of specialists whose job it is to identify and assess values at risk from a fire's "after effects," such as erosion or flooding.
The Whitewater Baldy Complex BAER team was composed of specialists in various fields, including hydrologists, soil scientists, wildlife biologists, geologists, ecologists, suppression team liaison, engineers, cultural resources specialists, and geographic information specialists. From June 2nd to June 18th, 2012, the team conducted field surveys, modeling and analysis of data and prepared reports for the emergency assessment of post-fire resource conditions. The purpose of the emergency report was to assess values at risk on the Gila National Forest and surrounding areas from the Whitewater Baldy Complex, and submit a funding request to secure money to implement treatments to lessen threats to life, property, and resources from indirect fire effects such as flooding and debris flows.
Burn Severity of the Whitewater Baldy Complex
Burn severity measures the effect the fire had on the vegetation and the soil. High severity burns can result in hydrophobicity of the soils, sterilization of the seedbank, removal of all vegetative ground cover, complete overstory removal and increased water flows in draws and canyons.
Burn severity class
Acres burned in each class
Percentage of fire area
Low & Unburned
Total Acres 274,784 acres
(Figure 1. Burn severity by acreage These figures are based on the burn severity map data which was derived from the 6/5/2012 BARC map. It does not cover the entire final burn area or reflect burn severity for internal areas that continued to burn after the BARC map was created. Unknown arces represent areas within the burn perimeter at the time the BARC imagery was collected but did not get picked up by the satelite sensors.)
Burn Severity map. Burn Severity data is based on 6/5/2012 imagery, fire perimeter is
Values at Risk
The Whitewater Baldy Complex burned on mainly Forest Service land with about 1000 acres of Private lands. East of Glenwood NM. The fire burned in Pinon/Juniper woodland, Ponderosa Pine forrest, Mixed Conifer Forest and Alpine Grasslands. The vast majority of high severity burn was as a result of extreme fire behavior in stand replacing burns in mixed confier. The terrian within the burned area is steep to very steep with a very high potential for excessive erosion and loss of control of water. Team hydrologists models show a high probability for significantly increased runoff flows from storm events.
The risk matrix below, Exhibit 2 of Interim Directive No.: 2520-2010-1, was used to evaluate the Risk Level for each value identified during Assessment:
Probability of Damage or Loss
Magnitude of Consequences
Loss of life or injury to humans; substantial property damage; irreversible damage to critical natural or cultural resources.
- Injury or illness to humans; moderate property damage; damage to critical natural or cultural resources resulting in considerable or long term effects
Property damage is limited in economic value and/or to few investments; damage to natural or cultural resources resulting in minimal, recoverable or localized effects
(>50% to 10% to