Post-Wildfire Recovery


Post-wildfire recovery is the spectrum of human-led efforts to repair and restore property and natural resources after a fire. Although natural recovery is preferable, some wildfire incidents cause damage that require special efforts to mitigate. Some examples of such damage include loss of vegetation that would lead to soil erosion, water runoff that creates flood threats, or the movement of sediments that can endanger homes or water reservoirs vital to wildlife and human communities.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Division of Wildland Fire Management (DWFM) Post-Wildfire Recovery (PWR) Program consists of four main areas that, together, present a holistic approach to post-wildfire recovery: Fire Suppression Repair, Emergency Stabilization (ES), Burned Area Rehabilitation (BAR), and Restoration. 

Post-Wildfire Recovery Program Areas

Post-Wildfire Recovery Area

Fire Suppression Repair

Emergency Stabilization (ES)

Burned Area Rehabilitation (BAR)

Restoration

Primary Objective

Repair impacts due to firefighting actions

Minimize post-fire threats to life or property

Non-emergency repair/restoration of damage caused by fire

Return to resilient landscape

Urgency

Before incident closeout

Within 1 year plus 21 days of fire start

Within 5 years

5 plus years

Delegation of Authority

Incident Commander

Agency Administrator

Agency Administrator

Agency Administrator

Funding Source

Fire operations (suppression)

PWR Program - Fire operations (ES)

PWR Program - Rehab Account (annual appropriation)

Program Funds

Fire Suppression Repair


Fire Suppression Repair, also known as Suppression Repair, is the work done to repair or minimize the fire impacts to resources, lands, and facilities resulting from firefighting activities. This phase usually begins before the fire is contained. Resource Advisors, known as READs and REAFs (fireline qualified) are assigned to assist with identifying and evaluating potential impacts on natural, cultural, wilderness and other resources. READs work on small local responses or with Incident Management Teams (IMTs) to develop practical strategies and tactics that meet agency administrators' or incident objectives.  

For every wildfire incident, READs develop a fire suppression repair plan that addresses damage such as:

  • Construction of firelines, strips of land cleared of burnable material
  • Impact to the land caused by establishing bases for firefighting operations, such as helicopter operations areas and firefighting crew camps
  • Incidental damage to roads and historic trails
  • Release of fire retardants near waterways

Burned Area Emergency Response


When a wildland fire incident occurs in Indian Country where the values at risk have been determined to be significant, DWFM’s PWR program provides wildfire recovery guidance in the form of a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) assessment. This assessment evaluates the impacts of the wildfire and recommends post-fire ES and BAR measures to protect public safety, prevent further degradation of the landscape and to mitigate post-fire damages to cultural resources. To facilitate this rapid assessment process, a designated BAER team, consisting of wildfire recovery specialists, plans and carries out the first steps to help the landscape recover from fire. The BAER team includes experts such as botanists, hydrologists, soil scientists, geologists, wildlife biologists, and cultural resource specialists.

The BAER team begins as soon as conditions are safe, and usually before the fire is fully contained. Their assessment usually takes 7 to 14 days to complete, depending on the size of the fire. The local agency or landholder implements the recommended plan with support and funding from the PWR Program. Treatments and actions are implemented to prevent or minimize additional post-fire effects like flash flooding

Some examples of BAER strategies that fall under the category of ES and BAR include:

  • seeding severely burned areas with quick-growing or native species of plants and/or mulching with certified weed free straw or wood chips to protect high value resources
  • installing debris flow treatments to protect downstream resources and values
  • modifying or removing culverts to allow drainage to flow freely
  • constructing drainage dips or emergency spillways to keep roads and bridges from washing out during floods
  • install warning signs
  • implement early detection and rapid response treatment to minimize the spread of noxious weeds into native plant communities
  • install erosion control measures at critical cultural sites

BAER assessment plans are a cooperative effort between federal agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey, Tribal, state, and local forestry and emergency management departments.

Emergency Stabilization


ES allocates funding to address imminent post-wildfire threats to human life and safety, property, and critical natural or cultural resources on federal lands. When possible, emergency stabilization strategies are implemented before the first major post-fire storm event, since post-fire rain and flash flooding can worsen the impacts of wildfire or create new impacts.  Fires result in loss of vegetation, exposure of soil to erosion, and increased water runoff that may lead to flooding, increased sediment, debris flow, and damage to critical natural and cultural resources.

BAER actions such as: seeding, mulching, installation of erosion and water run-off control structures, temporary barriers to protect recovering areas, and installation of warning signs may be implemented.  Other BAER ES-related measures may also replace safety related facilities; remove safety hazards; prevent permanent loss of habitat for threatened and endangered species; and prevent the spread of noxious weeds and protect critical cultural resources.

Burned Area Rehabilitation


BAR aims to reduce the risk of permanent resource damage and promote long-term restoration of the fire impacted landscape. BAR strategies span up to five years after the original fire incident.  This phase utilizes non-emergency actions to improve fire-damaged lands that are unlikely to recover naturally and to repair or replace facilities damaged by fire that are not critical to life and safety. 

Some typical BAR treatments are:

  • Reforestation and cultural planting
  • Acquiring seeds for revegetation
  • Performing surveys to determine the effectiveness of treatment plans
  • Cultural resource clearance survey(s) to determine that treatments will not negative impact cultural resources 
  • Repairing minor facilities such as water troughs
  • Identifying Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI) plots, land used to monitor forest regrowth
  • Treating noxious weed infestations
  • Replacing burned fences and road and information signs
  • Sign replacements such as road hazard signage, informational signs, etc.

BAR funding is allocated to each bureau at the beginning of the fiscal year or following Congressional appropriations.

Restoration


Restoration is a long-term process that focuses on ecological recovery of watersheds, habitats and biomes. Depending on the land and location, restoration can take anywhere from a few years to decades. These strategic efforts are not funded by the post wildfire recovery program and is usually the responsibility of the local agency/unit and may include salvaging the remaining usable timber, reforestation, fuels treatments, reestablishing native plant populations, restoring habitats, and treating invasive plants. These strategies work towards not only the restoration of natural areas, but also towards increasing their resilience to future wildfire events.

 

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Division of Wildland Fire Management
National Interagency Fire Center, 3383 S. Development Ave.
Boise, ID 83705
Open 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Monday–Friday.