Post-Fire Response: Stabilization and Protection

Sierra Nevada landscapes are adapted to periodic fire, and many plants and animals benefit from the low to moderate intensity fires that once regularly occurred here. But today, large wildfires are having more severe impacts than fires did in previous centuries. The Castle Fire (2020) and the KNP Complex Fire (2021) affected large areas of these parks and neighboring lands. Numeorus post-fire issues impact public safety, infrastructure, and the health of park resources, such as giant sequoias, water quality in streams, cultural sites, and special status species.

Two programs, the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) and Burned Area Rehabilitation (BAR), help us evaluate and respond to critical needs directly following fire, and rehabilitate high-priority resources damaged by the fire or fire suppression efforts.

 

Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER)

Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) begins before the fire is completely contained or shortly thereafter. The BAER program brings in a team of specialists to assess the need for effective post-fire stabilization measures to protect human life, property, and critical natural and cultural resources. Teams include experts in hydrology, forestry, cultural resources, botany, wildlife biology, Geographic Information Systems, infrastructure, recreation, and environmental regulatory compliance. They meet with the park management team to identify values at risk from direct fire impacts or conditions following the fire. After spending time in the field making assessments, compiling data, and talking with park specialists, they make recommendations on specific, immediate actions needed (within one year post-fire).

 
Upper image shows fire-killed trees along both sides of a road, with a few large trees cut above the road.
Upper photo shows fire-killed trees along the Generals Highway, with a couple larger trees cut on the slope above the road. The lower photo shows three hazard trees marked with blue paint that could be a threat to this effluent tank if they fell on it.

KNP Complex BAER Recommendations

Examples of a few types of actions recommended for the KNP Complex Fire are provided below.

Assess and Remove Hazardous Trees in Developed Zones

A tree hazard is defined as a tree (or portion of tree) with a recognizable potential for mechanical failure and/or uprooting AND one which has a potential for impacting a target (i.e. person, property, facility) in event the tree were to fail. The NPS estimates that there are thousands of trees within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks that were impacted by the KNP Complex Fire and which are now considered hazardous due to the threat they pose to:

  • Park residences and private cabins
  • Park structures and facilities including visitor centers, lodging and restaurants, restrooms, and campgrounds
  • Utility infrastructure, including power lines, whether owned by the NPS or another entity
  • Other stationary targets like parking lots, overlooks, and any place people congregate on foot such as exhibits and picnic tables
  • Segments of road corridors that were impacted by moderate to high severity fire
  • Front country paved walking paths

Given the imminent threat posed to some targets, the NPS has mitigated a portion of these hazard trees by trimming and/or removal, particularly in areas impacted by high severity fire, and is evaluating how to address the full extent of the hazards.

 
Image of open culvert that can still drain water and minor debris from slope (left) and then again after a storm, where it is so filled with soil and rocks that it is buried and no longer visible.
The left image shows a culvert with a few rocks in it, but still open enough to drain water and sediment. In the right image, taken after a storm, sediment has completely filled and buried the culvert, so that it is no longer visible or able to drain water and sediment.

Clear Culverts and Roads of Debris after Storms

Increased movement of rocks, sediment, and other debris occurs after storms, particularly in areas where vegetation and other stabilizing features of slopes may be disturbed or burned during the fire. It's critical to check culverts after storms to keep them cleared out. If they become blocked, soil, rocks, and woody material can deposit on roadways, and potentially wash out or otherwise damage parts of roads. We periodically check the roads during or after storms for debris flows or blocked culverts to protect public safety and minimize road damage.

 
View of masonry chimney and base = all that is left of a historic ranger station after a fire.
Masonry base and chimney remains after a historic ranger station was lost in the KNP Complex Fire in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Cultural Resource Protection and Stabilization

While loss of structures was minimal in the KNP Complex Fire, despite extensive efforts to protect them, a few historic structures were destroyed. Responses include securing the sites from uncontrolled access due to safety concerns and to prevent looting and vandalism. Longer term responses may include removing the remains of buildings or other structures or stabilizing them to address safety issues.In addition to historic structures, many historic and prehistoric cultural sites were within the burn perimeter and will be visited this summer to assess whether they were damaged and whether they need stabilization. The plan also recommends increasing staff presence to protect cultural sites that are now visible and could be damaged.

 

These were just a few examples of issues addressed in the Burned Area Emergency Response Plan. Others included:

  • Replace damaged communication equipment.
  • Restrict public access to unsafe areas and inform with area closure signs and maps.
  • Increase post-fire public outreach, interpretation, and education to reduce potential for damage to newly exposed natural and cultural resources by the public due to social trail development and/or exploration/looting.
  • Museum collection assessment – post-fire assessment and preliminary stabilization of nitrate film collection that was likely damaged and presents a health and safety risk.

While the first year of BAER work focuses on mitigating and addressing the most critical issues and threats the year following a fire, Burned Area Rehabilitation takes additional actions to protect resources in the first five post-fire years.

 

Burned Area Rehabilitation (BAR)

The Burned Area Rehabilitation (BAR) program aims to protect resources by repairing or improving burned landscapes unlikely to recover naturally to healthy conditions and to repair or replace fire-damaged minor assets, such as foot bridges and fences. BAR projects occur within the first five years following a wildfire. In large burned areas, prioritization is needed to focus limited funds on the most critical resource protection needs.

 
Closeup image of the open top of a canvas bag filled with bright green giant sequoia cones.
A bag of giant sequoia cones collected from the crowns of mature trees in the Board Camp Grove area, Sequoia National Park, October 2021.

NPS / Daniel Jeffcoach

Examples of BAR Projects Proposed for Castle or KNP Complex Fires

Sequoia Grove Restoration

Giant sequoias typically drop many seeds after a fire, and seedlings mainly grow in the first year post-fire. However, over 90 percent of first-year seedlings die. So, many seedlings need to establish after a fire for a few to survive and grow into mature trees. Scientists have surveyed grove areas that burned in the 2020 Castle Fire, and have seen very few seedlings in areas of high-severity fire. Without living adult trees to make more cones, sequoias will be lost from these sites without intervention.

The Board Camp Grove, a remote grove in Sequoia National Park, is one of the groves with very few seedlings and few adult trees nearby to produce cones and seed. Park staff have proposed a plan to restore 48 acres in this grove. They are working with other scientists to collect cones from the crowns of living sequoias in or near this grove and grow seedlings in a nursery setting, with the intent to plant them in severely burned areas of the grove. For the KNP Complex Fire, park managers propose to restore 350 acres of severely burned giant sequoia groves.

For the KNP Complex Fire, park staff are currently evaluating fire impacts to burned groves including field surveys of sequoia mortality and sequoia regeneration focusing on areas burned at high severity such as the southern end of Redwood Mountain Grove. These field evaluations will be used to consider whether any further action should be considered with respect to post-fire recovery in these groves.
 
Pacific fisher, a brown animal about the size of a large house cat, stands by a large pine tree.
Pacific fisher in a ponderosa pine forest.

Restore Mixed Conifer Forest Fisher Habitat

The fisher is a member of the weasel family and about the size of a large house cat. The Southern Sierra Nevada fisher population was listed in the Federal Register as Endangered in 2020. The range for this small population of 150 to 300 fishers stretches from the Merced River in Yosemite to the southern parts of Sequoia National Forest. Geographical isolation has made this fisher population genetically unique and vulnerable to decline.

The KNP Complex burn perimeter contains 50 percent of the proposed critical habitat for fishers (or 27,757, of 55,651 acres) within the parks. An estimated 28 percent of this area buned at high severity. Park managers park managers are considering whether reforestation is needed to benefit fire recovery of damaged fisher habitat. Spatial analysis is being done currently by an integrated team of scientists from the NPS and US Forest Service to identify potential restoration opportunities for both sequoia groves and fisher habitat. This analysis will be supplemented by field surveys in 2022 and 2023 to inform any future proposed actions regarding fire recovery for these critical park resources.

 

Additional Burned Area Rehabilitation Projects and Research

The examples above focused on wildlife and vegetation needs; the NPS has also sought funding for additional staff to protect resources and support public safety and is identifying and evaluating the need to repair or replace infrastructure damaged by the fire. Examples include:

  • Stabilize trails and mitigate hazards (such as increased tree fall and debris on trails)
  • Increased ranger patrols
  • Repair Wuksachi Bridge
  • Replace destroyed hydrological monitoring equipment
  • Replace radio equipment

To help inform post-fire management actions, additional research will be needed that will require seeking other funds and partnerships. Information needs include:

  • Fire impacts on wildlife
  • Fire impacts on stream flow, stream structure, and aquatic plants and animals
  • Potential for conversion of forests and shrublands to other types of vegetation
  • Impacts of increased fuels (as dead trees and branches fall) on re-burn severity
 

Confused about BAER versus BAR?

Perhaps the examples provided in this table will help to clarify the difference.
This table provides examples of Burned Area Emergency Response and Burned Area Rehabilitation to help clarify the difference between the two. Adapted from US Forest Service web table.
Burned Area Emergency Response (within 1 year post-fire) Burned Area Rehabilitation and Longer Term Restoration
Install water or erosion control devices. Repair gullies formed by post-fire floods.
Replace minor safety related facilities. Replace burned buildings, bridges, fences, etc.
Install appropriate-sized drainage features on roads and trails. Repair roads or trails damaged by floods or debris after fire.
Identify areas at-risk for non-native plant invasion. Control known or spreading invasive plant populations.
Install warning signs. Install interpretive signs.
Quantify and map loss of special status species habitat. Restore special status species habitat.
Monitor BAER treatment effectiveness Monitor fire effects.

 
Learn more about post wildland fire programs across the National Park Service.

Last updated: July 25, 2022

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