Monterey County

Fire team assessing potential post-fire threats

Team looks at future threats to the Soberanes Fire area

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. - The Soberanes Fire may be contained in some parts of Monterey County but there's a potential threat that still lingers. Members of the Burned Area Emergency Response Team (BAER) is surveying the environmental damage from the fire. On Friday, KION joined them in the Bottcher's Gap area on Palo Colorado Road.

According to a news release, the team is tasked with looking at potential watershed impacts from the fire to anything downstream that could be at risk from potential increased flooding, sedimentation and debris flows.

"We come out and we do an investigation to look at where did it burn, how much did it burn, how severely did the soil burn, which is going to make a difference about how much water comes off and how much soil it brings with it," Kelsha Anderson, a hydrologist, said.

That's because loss of vegetation makes soil susceptible to erosion and water runoff could potentially increase flooding. Soil also becomes loose after a fire comes through, sometimes making it difficult to absorb any water.

Crews have already looked at parts of the burn zone from the air. They are now conducting tests on the ground. During soil testing at Bottcher's Gap, the soil was considered to have a moderate burn severity.

"We're starting to have some effects on the surface of the soil," Eric Nicita, a soil scientist, said. "Our soil structure is starting to be altered. There are some surface roots that are burnt and our water penalty is increasing and in a moderate (burn severity), we usually don't have effects more than an inch down."

But they are hopeful for a quick recovery. Vegetation is starting to sprout just four weeks after the Soberanes Fire came through the area.

"Some of these slopes that are dark and black right now will come back fairly quickly," Anderson said.

They believe grass and brush will regrow by next spring.

This team is assessing the north end of the fire, in areas north and west of Ventana Creek and the Upper Carmel River. Another team will take the southern part of the fire once it has been deemed safe. They hope to test 30-50 sites within the entire burn zone.

Once the assessments are completed, they will offer recommendations to local partners about ways to stabilize and rehabilitate the terrain.

"We'll combine our soil burn severity map, we'll do our hydrologic modeling, our sedimentation modeling, and our debris flow modeling and predict where areas will be slower to recover and what areas will recover more rapidly," Nicita said.

The team points out, just because they are assessing the risk doesn't mean it will play out in real life.

They say, "While the results of this analysis cannot prevent a flood, the study should serve to focus private and public resources to areas where treatments can be most effective in protecting property."UPDATE 9/2/2016 9 PM:


Firefighters have been working to contain the Soberanes Fire since July 22. The next phase of the operation is to figure out where fire damage could cause problems in the future.

A Burned Area Emergency Response Team (BAER) is now working to identify areas where vegetation loss could cause soil erosion or flash flooding.

KION's Mariana Hicks is with the assessment team, and tonight at 5 and 6 she'll show us the work that is now underway to deal with post-fire effects on streams, water supplies, home and wildlife.

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