After a wildfire devastes an area, the hard work of managing the burned area begins. The News Station’s Marnee Banks spoke with a local expert who’s responsible for cleaning up after the fire.
Dave Callery, a hydrologist for the U.S. Forest Service, explained, “The goal of the Burned Area Emergency Response program is to assess the conditions after a fire and determine the need for emergency stabilization work to protect life, property and resource values that are at risk due to the impacts of the fire.
Burned Area Emergency Response – referred to as BAER – is a federally-funded program the USFS uses to clean up the land after a wildfire.
Callery said that a BAER team is assembled and performs an assessment while a fire is still being contained; the team then prepares a report stating what emergency work should be done.
Callery says typically after a fire, steep hillsides can become unstable. The burned soil becomes waterproof, so rain won’t absorb into the ground, which can cause flooding, and debris flow.
He continued, “The landscape is more fragile and folks should always pay attention to the rules letting them know where they can and can’t travel off the road. Maybe especially so after a fire.”
The Forest Service isn’t the only agency which works to reduce risk after a fire.
Lewis & Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said, “There are several things we can do to make it better, it’s not just leaving it and hoping for the best.” He gave the example of a wind-storm that could more easily topple fire-damaged trees.
Callery elaborated, “They have been burned out on the inside, they might not show real well that they are much weaker than they were before the fire, and they can drop down even without wind blowing.
Callery says BAER funding is issued on a first-come, first-serve basis and because Montana’s wildfire season is later in the summer than some other states, often times getting the funding can be difficult.