Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER)

Tools of the Trade

Once a BAER team determines that a fire created an urgent need to implement emergency stabilization measures, the treatment selection process begins. The BAER assessment team identifies appropriate treatments and measures that best respond to the potential threats or hazards using reliable and proven land, channel, road/trail, and protection/safety methods. In some cases, treatments may not be practicable so some other measure may be prescribed, such as administrative closures. Often several treatments are recommended to reduce or mitigate the effect of the threats in a burned area. The BAER team considers numerous treatment-selection factors in consultation with the forest supervisor and leadership team including:

    1. Nature of downstream values at risk
    2. Effectiveness of treatment
    3. Treatment combinations (land, channel, road/trail, protection/safety) to reduce risks
    4. Timeframe for implementation
    5. Personnel and resources available for implementation and monitoring
    6. Hazards associated with treatment implementation
    7. Ease of treatment implementation
    8. Cost effectiveness of treatments
    9. Coordination with other Federal, State, and local agencies

Generally, a combination of land, channel, road/trail, and protection/safety treatments are selected. The synergy of treatments often provides the most effective set of stabilizing factors. Not all treatments are as effective at obtaining the emergency stabilization objectives.

Land Treatments

Land treatments stabilize burned areas by preventing or reducing fire’s adverse effects. They foster recovery by providing soil cover and reducing erosion, trapping sediment and reducing sedimentation, and/or reducing water repellency and improving infiltration. They also maintain ecosystem integrity by preventing expansion of unwanted species.

    • Mulching: Mulching provides immediate ground cover and protects soils from erosion and nutrient capital loss. Mulching can reduce downstream peak flows by absorbing rainfall and allowing water repellency to breakdown. Mulch helps to secure seeds that are either stored in the soil or applied as an emergency treatment by maintaining a favorable moisture and temperature regime for seed germination and growth. Mulching methods include aerial and ground application using straw, wood chips, or fiber materials.
    • Erosion barriers: Erosion barriers reduce the slope’s length, slow overland runoff, trap sediment, and improve infiltration by installing logs, fiber rolls, or sandbags. Knowing storm type and erosion potential, trapping capacity of each structure, and implementation production rates are critical factors for selecting appropriate erosion barriers.
    • Scarification: Scarification increases infiltration and reduces runoff and erosion. Teams need to evaluate the persistence, depth, and pervasiveness of water repellency when recommending scarification methods, such as tilling, ripping, and raking. Teams recommend this treatment with seeding as a tool for seedbed preparation. Hazards to crews implementing this treatment should be considered fully.
    • Slash spreading: Slash spreading provides soil cover. Teams should identify the amount of soil cover necessary to reduce erosion. Using mechanized equipment, such as hydroax or mastication may provide more cover faster than using hand-held chainsaws.
    • Seeding: BAER teams work to reduce erosion hazards by increasing ground cover. This can be accomplished over large areas through revegetation. When the assessment indicates that revegetation will not occur under natural conditions in the first or second year, seeding or seeding in conjunction with mulching is frequently prescribed. Considerations for revegetation treatments include identifying the target area to be revegetated, using local knowledge to select a seed mix of species known to be effective for erosion control, and using local knowledge to ensure the seeding is compatible with future management objectives. Seeding rates will vary from location to location, although most burned area seeding will be done at a rate between 20 pure live seeds per square foot (PLS/SF) to 60 PLS/SF. Factors such as potential wind drift, topography, and likelihood that runoff will move seed before it germinates are also considered.
    • Invasive plants: If noxious and invasive plants were present prior to the fire, the assessment team may consider preventive treatments that includes seeding of highly competitive desired species. Appropriate methods for removing or reducing noxious and invasive plants in the burned area (hand removal, and mechanical, biological, and chemical methods) depend on the extent of the population. Biological and chemical treatments can be implemented only if an environmental document is approved for both the area and biological or chemical agent identified.
    • Critical-habitat stabilization: Critical-habitat stabilization includes site-specific habitats, such as meadows, riparian areas, and other unique habitats. Methods to stabilize the site, foster recovery, and reduce adverse impacts to the values at risk depend on the habitat.
    • Hazardous-material stabilization: Hazardous-material stabilization includes methods to stabilize an identified hazardous material onsite. Measures may include rolled erosion control products to prevent erosion or reduce runoff onto or from the site.
    • Heritage-site stabilization: Heritage-site stabilization protects and maintains site integrity. Employing erosion control products, such as mulch, rolled erosion control products, and Jute netting, establishing erosion barriers, and removing destabilized trees or other features help maintain site integrity.

Channel Treatments

Channel treatments are used to reduce or mitigate the effect to water quality, loss of water control, slow water velocity, trap sediment, and maintain channel characteristics. Channel treatments may reduce adverse impacts to downstream values at risk including property and critical natural or cultural resources.

Depending on the location, some BAER teams advise placing woody material in water channels to ensure stability, while others remove the material to prevent mobilization and damage to downstream values. Depending on the location, woody debris can be valuable part of the stream system stability or a detriment that ultimately negatively impact downstream facilities. Local expertise is essential to determine which treatment is more suitable in a particular area in order to determine the best plan of action.

    • Grade stabilizers: Grade stabilizers reduce channel downcutting by establishing grade control, decreasing water velocity, and maintaining width-to-depth ratio. When correctly implemented, grade stabilizers i.e., rocks, logs, or fiber-roll structures are most effective in small watersheds (ephemeral channels).
    • Check dams: Check dams temporarily store sediment and can attenuate peak flow as water is routed through several small basins. Careful hydrologic- and sediment-yield analysis is recommended before prescribing a check dam of logs, straw bales, and rock/gabion structures.
    • Debris and sediment basins: Debris and sediment basins temporarily store sediment and can attenuate peak flows. Debris basins are expensive and time consuming to design and build to meet standards for dam construction. However, in areas of high values at risk, a debris basin may be the most effective treatment. BAER team members should consider size and amount of material to be moved as well as the long-term impacts of construction and maintenance.
    • Channel-debris clearing: Channel-debris clearing removes debris from the channel and flood-prone area that could dislodge and plug culverts downstream. Prescriptions to clear debris should consider channel and geomorphic processes, as well as fishery values within the system.
    • Stream-channel armoring: Stream-channel armoring reduces the potential impact from increased peak flows on stream reaches by placing rocks or suitable materials along the banks. Additional methods include rock vanes, in-channel felling, and stream deflectors. These methods reduce streambank erosion and protect both natural resources and property.

Road and Trail Treatments

Road and trail treatments mitigate the fire’s effect on transportation infrastructure and protect life, safety, property, and critical natural or cultural resources. These treatments work in conjunction with land, channel, and protection/safety treatments

Rolling dips and waterbars: Rolling dips and waterbars create additional drainage across roads or trails for anticipated increased runoff. Where the road prism alternates from insloped to outsloped, berms should be considered for removal. Armored dips should be utilized for roads expecting all-season traffic. For roads with more than a 10-percent slope that can be closed to traffic, waterbars can be dug into the road and skewed properly to maintain their function.

Berm removal: Berm removal on the outside edges of roads allows water to sheet-flow off the road prism rather than being concentrated. Careful distribution of water minimizes its erosive power.

Outsloping: Outsloping prevents water concentration and channeling by dispersing runoff across the road. The cross-slope of an outsloped road varies from three to five percent and depends on road profile, maintenance level, and traffic service level.

Overside drains: Overside drains are used to protect the fillslope from erosion where increased runoff is expected from the fire’s effect. To prevent fill erosion, armor lead-out ditches with riprap. Corrugated metal downdrains can fail when installed on roads with earthen berms. Use culvert extensions and other downdrain structures to prevent erosion and release runoff onto stable areas.

Culverts: Culverts that are used for roadway drainage (ditch relief culverts) and channel crossings become a watershed emergency when they are damaged in a fire or when their hydraulic capacity is marginal. Stream diversion potential may exist along insloped roads with a continuous road grade. Post-fire sediment and debris flow in channels may plug culverts and increase the diversion-potential risk. Increased storm runoff due to the fire’s effects can cause the failure of undersized culverts and lead to erosion of the road fill and deterioration of water quality. Potential treatments include:

Culvert removal: Remove cross-drain culverts that are 24 inches or less and replace with outsloping or rolling dips. For channel-crossing culverts, evaluate whether a low-water stream crossing (unvented ford) would address the emergency and meet resource concerns (access, aquatic species, and water quality). If access is not needed, remove the culvert temporarily and replace after the emergency ceases. Place barricades as needed. Temporarily modifying culverts with risers or slotted drop inlets, adding elevated inlets, or armoring diversion dips below culverts can mitigate plugged culverts. To determine the appropriate modification, analyze each culvert for location, fill depth, access, sediment potential, and values at risk.

Debris structures: Installing structures above a culvert or bridge crossing can protect the facility and prevent plugging. Debris racks and deflectors require inspection and regular maintenance.

Replacement or Upgrade: Fire damaged culverts should be replaced or upgraded if increased flow or debris is expected. Upgrades solely to protect the road or trail investment are used only when less costly than repairing damage.

Storm inspection and response: Typically, crews drive the roads during or immediately after storms, checking sediment and debris accumulations and performing thorough, rapid inspection of road-drainage features, culverts, and other structures. The crew is responsible for maintaining culvert function by opening culvert inlets and removing debris

Trail stabilization: Trail stabilization reduces adverse effects of increased runoff and erosion from fire. Methods include waterbars (rock, log, or rubber), armored stream crossings, and rolling dips.

Road closures: Closing roads is the safest and most effective treatment when a threat to human life is identified. Roads can be closed where an alternative access exists. Closures are implemented with a signed forest order and must be enforced. Possible treatments include gates, Jersey barriers, barricades, signs, and closure enforcement. Where closure is impossible, treatments may combine hazard removal, storm inspection and response, culverts modifications, dips, debris racks, warning signs, or flood-warning systems. The combination depends on the location, amount and type of access, and climatic conditions.

Protection and Safety Treatments:

Treatments to protect life, safety, and critical natural and cultural resources include flood-warning systems, warning signs, barriers, facility safety work, enforcement protection, and hazard removal.

Flood-warning systems: Flood-warning systems are used when there is a direct and substantial threat to life and a high probability of significant storms capable of producing floods or mass failure. Flood-warning treatments include early warning systems that are collaboratively identified with the local jurisdiction responsible for public safety

Warning signs: Warning signs alert drivers and recreational users of existing or potentially hazardous conditions created by wildfire incidents. The signs identify the immediate threats to public safety or limit access to protect treated or recovering areas.

Protective fencing and barriers: Protective fencing and barriers limit public and/or livestock access to protect treated or recovering areas where emergency access is not necessary. Barriers also prevent access to hazardous areas.

Protection enforcement: Protection enforcement is implemented through established patrol areas, signing, and enforcement actions and informs users of temporary changes in effect as a result of a fire.

Facility safety work: Facility safety work includes replacing minor warning or safety control facilities damaged or destroyed by the fire. Treatments are implemented rapidly where human health or safety is at risk and no other protection options exist.

Hazard removal: Hazard removal includes prevention, control, or removal of contaminated or hazardous material created or exposed by the fire. In addition, hazard tree and unstable-rock removal prevents risk to human life and property. Removing the hazard is prescribed when access to the area is not administratively controllable.