What Is Burned Area Emergency Response?
Incident: Beaver Creek BAER Burned Area Emergency Response
What is BURNED AREA EMERGENCY RESPONSE (BAER)
While many wildfires cause little damage to the land and pose few threats, some fires create situations that require special efforts to prevent further catastrophic damage after the fire. Loss of vegetation exposes soil to erosion; runoff may increase and cause flash flooding; sediments may move downstream and damage houses or fill reservoirs; and put wildlife, archaeological sites, and water supplies at possible risk. After a fire the first priority is emergency stabilization in order to prevent further damage to life, property, and natural or cultural resources. The stabilization work begins before the fire is out and may continue for up to a year. The longer-term rehabilitation effort to repair damage caused by the fire begins after the fire is out and continues for several years. Rehabilitation focuses on the lands unlikely to recover naturally from wildfire damage.
The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program addresses these situations with the goal of protecting life, property, water quality, and deteriorated ecosystems from further damage after the fire is out. In addition to life and property, concern for possible post-fire effects on fish, wildlife, archeological sites and endangered species is often a primary consideration in the development of a BAER plan.
The objective of BAER is “to determine the need for and to prescribe and implement emergency treatments to minimize threats to life or property or to stabilize and prevent unacceptable degradation to natural and cultural resources resulting from the effects of a fire” (Forest Service Manual 2523.02). Emphasis on identifying and defining the “values at risk” is critical during the initial assessment. The burned area emergency response risk management process begins during or shortly after wildfire containment with risk assessments evaluating the effects of the wildfire against values needing protection. These risk assessments can range from simple to complex. An organized interdisciplinary team of subject matter experts (e.g., hydrologists, soil scientists, botanists, cultural resource specialists, engineers, etc.) uses assessment tools such as hydrological modeling and soil burn severity mapping to assess potential flooding and vegetation recovery.
A BAER plan is developed based on the risk assessments and burned area land management objectives. The BAER Plan identifies the most effective treatments to address the identified risks. Plan implementation timeframes are dictated primarily by anticipated future events (e.g., next significant rainstorm) which also influence treatment options. The plan needs to be completed very soon after containment of the fire.
In most cases, only a portion of the burned area is actually treated. Treatments will be focused on areas of the burn that would have the most direct impact to life, property and resources. The treatments must be installed as soon as possible, generally before the next damaging storm. Time is critical if treatments are to be effective. Treatments approved in the BAER plan need to be completed within one year after the BAER plan is approved.
BAER is “first aid” – immediate stabilization that often begins before a fire is fully contained. BAER does not seek to replace what is damaged by fire, but to reduce further damage due to the land being temporarily exposed in an unsatisfactory condition.
What BAER Can Do:
Install water or erosion control devices
Sow seeds or plant trees for erosion control or soil stability reasons
Install erosion control measures at critical cultural sites
Install warning signs
Replace minor safety related facilities
Install appropriate-sized drainage features on roads, trails
Prevent permanent loss of threatened or endangered species habitat
Plant grass to prevent spread of noxious weeds
Monitor BAER treatments
What BAER Cannot Do:
Excavate or interpret cultural sites
Replace burned fences on private land
Install interpretive signs
Replace burned buildings, bridges, corrals, etc.
Repair roads damaged by floods after fire
Replace burned habitat
Treat pre-existing noxious weeds
Monitor fire effects
Burned Area Emergency Response Glossary of Terms
Aerial Seeding: dropping seed from a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft. This technique can cover large areas quickly.
Burn severity, low: ground vegetation burned or not burned, a few of the needles on trees are scorched (indicated by pale yellow or straw color)
Burn severity, moderate: ground vegetation burned; from 10 to 70 percent needle scorch on trees
Burn severity, high: needles and small branches consumed; some large branches consumed
Contour felling: trees killed the fire are turned into log barriers to slow water flowing over the burned area and to trap sediment. The trees are felled by sawyers and secured with stakes or rocks so they don't roll down the slope. This is done in a staggered pattern on slopes up to 50%.
Culverts: pipes or tubes where water in a stream or normally dry stream channel passes under a road or other structure. Culverts designed to pass pre-fire flows are too small for increased runoff. Culverts can be removed and replaced by grade dips in the stream channels. Debris catchers can be placed upstream to protect culverts.
Floatable woody debris: large logs and sticks that are in a stream channel that could be picked up and carried by flood waters. Logs can float on the post-fire floods and act as battering rams on downstream road crossings or plug culverts. Blocked culvert can easily for a small or large pond that may overtop and wash out a roadway.
Hazard trees: Burned trees pose a hazard to anyone in the fire area. Before any work can be done, hazard trees must be removed.
Hydromulch: a liquid mix of water, fertilizer, sticky tackifier, and seed that is sprayed from trucks or aircraft to provide instant ground cover and to jump-start re-vegetation.
Hydrophobic soil: soil that repels water. It can form when a thick layer of conifer needles burn hot or when dry soil is exposed to a hot fire. If water doesn't soak into the soil, it runs downhill rapidly forming rivulets, then collecting into torrents.
Log erosion barrier: like contour felling, but the dead tree is felled, maneuvered to contact as much ground as possible, and then secured so it doesn't roll down the slope.
Mosaic burn pattern: most wildfires do not burn the forest in a uniform way. The typical pattern is a mosaic of low, moderate, and high burn severity.
Remote Automated Weather Station (RAWS): portable weather stations that can be placed within burned areas to monitor post-fire precipitation.
Straw Mulch: in critical areas, straw mulch can be applied on top of seed to help trap moisture for germinating seeds and to help break up hydrophobic soil. Straw can be applied by hand or dropped from nets hauled by helicopters.
Values at Risk: life, property, and other critical features of the human and natural landscape that might be damaged by post-fire flooding. This includes but is not limited to homes or other structures, important roads, cultural resources and heritage areas, wildlife habitat, or dams and reservoirs.