After a large wildfire, special actions are necessary to provide for public safety and protect critical natural and cultural resources on federal lands. For example, loss of vegetation exposes soil to erosion; water runoff may increase and cause flooding. Sediment may move downstream damaging roads and infrastructure or put endangered species and cultural resources at risk. The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program addresses these situations on federal lands to guard the safety of National Forest (NF) visitors and employees, protect federal property, and critical natural or cultural resources from further damage.

Two BAER teams have been established by the Sequoia NF and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to begin burned area assessments of the French Fire that recently burned on state, private, and federal lands. The Sequoia NF BAER team will assess National Forest System (NFS) lands, while the BLM BAER team will assess BLM lands.

BAER assessments are rapid evaluations of the burned area used to identify unacceptable risks on federal lands from post-fire threats and assist land managers in preparing burned areas for potential threats from rainstorms. Both teams focus on emergency actions necessary to protect human life and safety, property, and critical natural and cultural resources on federal lands. Both teams assess potential post-fire impacts to the burned watersheds. They coordinate and share information from their assessments with other federal agencies such as the National Weather Service (NWS) and US Geological Survey (USGS), state agencies, and local affected counties. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a federal agency that has post-fire responsibilities on private lands both within and downstream of burned areas.

In addition to the two federal BAER assessment teams, a California State watershed emergency response team (WERT) evaluates burned private, and state lands from the French Fire. All three teams share information and data as they complete their assessments and subsequent reports.

The Forest Service BAER team assessing the French Fire consists of hydrologists, geologists, soil scientists, road engineers, botanists, biologists, archaeologists, and geographic information system (GIS) specialists. BAER assessment teams collect data during ground and aerial surveys and complete maps using GIS and modeling to evaluate post-fire risks. The first step in the BAER assessment process is taking pre-fire and post-fire satellite imagery and data collected during ground surveys to produce a soil burn severity map. The soil burn severity provides baseline information to determine changed watershed conditions for assessing potential watershed impacts from wildfires. This information is compiled and presented to NF leadership along with recommended emergency stabilization treatments and actions in a BAER assessment report.

Rainstorm runoff is sometimes, but not always, increased on burn scars. The Forest Service BAER assessment report will be shared with interagency cooperators who work with downstream private homeowners and landowners to prepare for potential post-fire flooding and debris flow impacts. Homes or businesses that could be impacted by flooding from federal land that result from wildfires may be eligible for flood insurance coverage from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Information about NFIP is available through FEMA at www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program or www.floodsmart.gov/wildfires.Other flood preparedness information is available at www.ready.gov/floods at www.floodsmart.gov/.