Castle Fire rehab proves to be a ‘BAER’

The Burned Area Emergency Response team in charge of assessing the Castle Fire burn site identifies critical threats in the area

SEQUOIA NATIONAL FOREST – While California is plunging into another wildfire season, staff at the Sequoia National Forest are still assessing the damage from last year’s blazes.

According to the National Park Service supervisor Teresa Benson was tasked to build a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team, during the 2020 Castle Fire. Their job was to assess threats to life, property and cultural and natural resources within the burned area.

The BAER team staffed with trained professionals, including hydrologists, soil scientists, geologists, GIS specialists, engineers, botanists, and archeologists began evaluating hydrology, soil, geology, archaeology, roads, and trails, plants, and animals for post-fire emergencies on Oct. 14, 2020. The team identified critical values and post-fire threats to human life and safety, property, natural resources and cultural and heritage resources.

In response to the Fire and BAER team’s assessment, Sequoia National Forest staff has addressed the following priorities:

Closure of the burned area with significant risk to human life and safety such as falling debris and other overhead hazards, invisible holes from burnt-out tree roots, and difficult to pass road and trail obstructions.

Developed an early warning system for flooding and debris flow risk in cooperation with the National Weather Service and other state and federal agencies.

Reduced risk along Forest roads, making them available for public travel, is in the works through contracting. Forest officials are leading a Student Conservation Association crew as they work to repair recreation trails. The initial focus are trails on steep slopes in areas where increased surface runoff is most likely to cause further damage and erosion.

Coordination with Region 5 for contracts to remove hazardous material from government-owned infrastructure destroyed by the fire, Freeman Creek Trail bridge, CSET Camp improvements on the North Road, Mountain Home Guard Station, and Jordan Peak Lookout tower. Jordan Peak, historically a key communication site on the Forest, is our top priority to restore communications for fire management and other field-going personnel.

Survey work is being conducted for an early detection-rapid response for invasive/noxious weeds. Inspection of cultural and heritage sites in need of treatment is complete.

Rehabilitation focuses on the lands unlikely to recover naturally from wildland fire damage, and BAER treatments are on-going and expected to be completed by November 2021. However, the longer-term rehabilitation/restoration effort to repair damage caused by the fire will take several years.

The Sequoia National Forest noted that although repair work is underway, the Castle Fire closure order remains in effect to protect the environment and public safety. They added that the closure order is evaluated regularly, and new areas will be reopened as conditions improve.

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