A BAER of a Task: A Multi-Agency Team’s Mission to Assess Parkwide Damage in Whiskeytown NRA Following the Carr Fire

Two people surveying burned trees in a rocky area.
Members of a BAER team have been surveying areas throughout Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

NPS Photo

Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams are sent to federal lands following significant wildfires to identify imminent post-fire threats and give recommendations on how to reduce the potential impacts on human safety, infrastructure, and natural and cultural resources. These multi-disciplinary, multi-agency teams enter wildfire-impacted areas almost immediately after the fire threat passes. Their focus is on the direct damage caused by the fire itself, rather than from suppression, and the after-effects

The BAER Team spent 18 days responding to the Carr Fire, one of the most destructive wildfires in California’s history. The fire burned 39,000 acres of the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area’s 42,000 acres. More than 20 specialists from the National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Fish & Wildlife (USFW), and US Forest Service (USFS) covered the entirety of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (NPS) and neighboring Shasta-Trinity National Forest (USFS) and Swasey Recreation Area (BLM). Their findings will be given to the park to assist in deciding next steps to manage these areas and reduce the impacts of identified potential risks.

“Even though the flames are out and the smoke is clearing, there is the potential for further damage when storm clouds form and the winter rains come,” team leader Chris Holbeck said. “Some areas of the fire burned very hot and the scorched soil and lack of vegetation could mean an increased threat of runoff, but the majority of areas burned at a low severity with limited vegetation mortality, much like a prescribed fire.”

Person leaning over bridge railing to measure cross-section of creek relative to bridge.
Flanagan and Reddington measure a cross-section of a creek in relation to a bridge

NPS Photo

Allison Reddington, a hydrologist from Cherokee National Forest (USFS) in Tennessee, and Sam Flanagan, a geologist from the Acrata Field Office (BLM) in California, spent the last two weeks checking how the recent damage from the Carr Fire may trigger geologic hazards and flow of water, such as flooding, erosion, landslides, or debris rolling downhill. Other members of the team are checking bridges, culverts, historic sites, campgrounds, and other areas.

Following the recent wildfire, loss of vegetation and changes in the soil may increase the flow of water and potential debris that could roll downhill from Shasta Bally, the highest peak in the park. Car-sized boulders in and around stream channels, such as Boulder Creek, are a reminder that debris has come loose from Shasta Bally in the past. If a debris flow were triggered causing boulders to roll downdrainage, it could create a snowball-effect and a debris flow that would fan out, depositing a flood of rocks, trees, and dirt in lower areas.

The team visited areas to take measurements and record data in the field and use a model to predict potential effects of increased projected flow of creeks. Their findings and recommendations are only one piece of the puzzle; they will be combined with notes from their colleagues in other disciplines, including cultural resources, botany, forestry, recreation, and facilities.

People near steel footbridge on trail with burned trees
An NPS archaeologist and park maintenance staff discuss the condition of the historic Crystal Creek Ditch system.

NPS / Ashley Phillips

A team of five cultural resource specialists from three agencies with backgrounds in archeology and historic architecture were tasked with checking cultural sites for fire-related damage, such as fallen fire-killed trees on historic structures, or potential future risks from erosion, flooding, or vandalism. Stabilizing or repairing the cultural landscapes and historic districts and sites within the park and forest will help preserve their stories for future generations.

“While the Carr Fire was devastating in many ways, and the landscape will be fundamentally changed for years to come, fire is a natural part of the ecosystem,” said Holbeck. “Vegetation will recover and visitors will return to these lands, we're seeing sprouting in the burned area already.”

A popular place for outdoor recreation in northern California, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area has more than 800,000 visitors each year and is an integral part of the local community. The park’s goal is to reopen areas as quickly as it is safe to do so. The BAER team’s efforts get the park one step closer.

Learn more about the BAER Program.

Last updated: November 2, 2018