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Assessing Pioneer Fire Effects and Safety Actions

Brian Anderson from the Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation Team (BAER) speaking about the impacts of the Pioneer Fire. Photo by Janet Juroch

A recent meeting with the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) in Garden Valley gave insight to the emergency planning needed as a result of the Pioneer Fire.  That fire devastated over 188,000 acres in Boise County. Though the fire is nearing containment as the weather changes, the aftermath is what emergency personnel are looking at.

Brian Anderson from the Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation Team (BAER) spoke about the impacts of the Pioneer Fire. A big concern is the effect on the watersheds due to erosion, particularly in Lowman and Garden Valley. Wildfire burn scars can be at increased risk for five years after an area has burned. Moisture can send debris down, plugging roads and waterways. Log jams can cause flooding.

Many Lowman residents are at risk because of homes close to the Southfork River. Rock Creek and Clear Creek drainages are included as high risk areas with homes. Flash floods can happen very fast with little advance warning. Homes along parts of the Southfork in Garden Valley, along with Mills Mountain and Project Patch are also in a flood plain. Jon Delvalle, Garden Valley Fire Protection District Chief expressed concern for these areas should a flood occur.  Brandon Hobbs of the Idaho Silver Jackets reminds people to check their insurance plans in the event of a flood.

Post-fire effects to water quality and bull trout, a listed species under the Endangered Species Act, will be under assessment by the BAER Team. Reducing the potential for new noxious weed infestations and minimizing the spread of existing infestations will be planned.

Planning safety strategies will keep disasters lessened through mitigation and response planning.  Some of the ways BAER and LEPC will be staying ahead of the “potential disasters” is to continue road and trail reconstruction. At risk areas where debris can travel down mountain slopes will use aerial and ground based mulching. Some culverts need to be removed or upsized.

Visitors need to prepare for changing conditions. “The safety of visitors and our employees is a priority and putting emergency stabilization projects in place is the first step in addressing this risk,” said Cecilia Seesholtz, Boise National Forest Supervisor. The BAER Team identifies those risks and works along with the LEPC and emergency agencies to devise plans. In the case of roads being cutoff or lengthy power outages, all agencies agreed that further planning will be needed.

Beautiful patio at Southfork Lodge sits right on the river and could be impacted by floods.  Photo by Janet Juroch

Beautiful patio at Southfork Lodge sits right on the river and could be impacted by floods. Photo by Janet Juroch

John Roberts, Emergency Management Director, expressed that “we need to plan for a worst case scenario.”  Communication through news and local radio are deemed important to keep information going, according to Roberts.  Placing of hazard warning signs will inform forest visitors and motorists of potential dangers. Delvalle would like to see reader boards utilized when there are live emergency situations happening. These forms of communication can help reduce the risk to human life

Troy Lindquist of the National Weather Service reminded everyone that they are not saying “these emergencies will occur but that they could potentially occur.” Their job at the NWS is to watch for potential storms and hazardous weather situations, thereby giving emergency responders time to plan.

The BAER Team is made up of hydrologists, geologists, soil scientists, road engineers, botanists, wildlife and fisheries biologists, archeologists, geographic information specialists, and silviculturists (forestry specialists). Prescribed strategies are applied from their detailed analyses to reduce potential damage on National Forest System lands before the first major storms. Approved treatments must be completed within one year.

Written by Janet Juroch- BCC Staff