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This BAER’s welcome in Glenwood

Donna Daniels
Staff Writer

In the wake of the Coal Seam Fire, a team of specialists is now ranging the hills around Glenwood Springs.

The Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation team is made up of hydrologists, who study the dynamics of water on land; soil scientists; fisheries and wildlife biologists; foresters; archaeologists and geologists.

They come from a variety of government agencies: the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Last week and this week the BAER team will determine the nature and extent of fire damage, specifically the potential threat of debris flows and floods.

Once the data has been collected, the team will make a plan to lessen the potential damage to homes and natural resources, said Andrea Holland-Sears, hydrologist for the White River National Forest.

The team mapped the profile of the narrow Mitchell Creek valley on Friday.

That background information will help the team develop a model of flood scenarios. Floods in the burned area could potentially cause more damage, since in some areas there is little or no vegetation to arrest or at least slow down the flow.

“The team is looking at Mitchell Creek first because of a concern with homes there,” Holland-Sears said. “They’re trying to assess the potential magnitude of rainstorms.”

The team will also examine the burned areas of Red Mountain, she said.

This week the team will collate its data and draw up a plan to mitigate areas of possible debris flow around homes and other buildings as well as prevent erosion on denuded slopes.

Soil scientists will measure soils in the basin for a condition called “hydrophobicity.”

Literally translated, it means lacking an affinity for water. To a soil scientist, it means soils that repel water instead of absorbing it.

Hydrophobitic soils, if they exist along Mitchell Creek, would allow water to run off quickly, increasing the volume of flood water in the creek.

One of the challenges will be to identify the potential for debris flows and flooding in an area that also has its share of earth movement.

“This is not a static environment,” Holland-Sears said.

Danger also lies in the large trees along the margins of the creek that were destroyed by the fire but are still standing. Already, firefighting crews have been at work on Mitchell Creek, cutting down many of those trees that threaten to fall across the road or into the creek.

Some of the BAER crew will also monitor fire lines cut by bulldozers for the growth of noxious weeds.

“During fire suppression there’s always a risk of introducing noxious weeds to areas where they haven’t been before,” Holland-Sears said.

Helicopters landing in a field infested with weeds can pick up the seeds on their skids and transfer them to the areas where they land.

“Even firefighters’ boots can bring seeds in,” Holland-Sears said.

Even with rehabilitation of fire lines and preventive measures, it’s still a roll of the dice as to what will really happen when the rains come this summer.

“It’s all probability, because Mother Nature is in charge,” Holland-Sears said.


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