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BAER teams examine aftermath of wildfire for immediate and long-term hazards

Man in hardhat and fire fatigues measuring culvert in forest.
Photo provided by Kassidy Kern, USDA.
Forest Service fisheries biologists and engineers have been assessing the Bedrock Fire's damage to infrastructure, including this culvert.

Teams of forest specialists are surveying areas affected by the Bedrock Fire east of Eugene, in order to assess risks to people and the environment.

Soil scientists, botanists, foresters, and other personnel with the Burned Area Emergency Response Team (BAER) are examining the nearly 32,000 acres burned in the Willamette National Forest.

People in hard hats and fire fatigues looking at soil.
Photo provided by Kassidy Kern, USDA.
Soil scientists examine unburned soils to determine the change from pre-fire conditions.

“They're looking at dozer lines, they’re looking at hand cut lines,” said Kassidy Kern, a public information officer with the U.S. Forest Service. “They're looking at just general standards of the burned area that might be lower, moderate and even high burn severity and they're seeing what needs to be done.

“Where there's a threat to infrastructure, there's a threat to human life, we want to ensure that the forest is aware of those and can then start to work on making sure that we stop the negative impacts where we can.”

Kern told KLCC that this includes aerial surveys by helicopter.

Long-term assessments take winter precipitation into account, meaning affected areas could be at risk for flooding, landslides, and backed-up culverts and roads.

“We're seeing so much runoff from the rain that we have gotten over that fire area in the last several weeks, that is plugging all of our culverts,” added Kern. “And in fact, we had an issue where then the culvert became so plugged that it was starting to wash out a road, so all of these things can be mitigated.”

Surveying will take a couple weeks, with monitoring of treatments lasting up to three years.

Kern said while it can be upsetting for locals to see the burnt landscapes and bare trees, there are encouraging signs.

“We're seeing bugs coming up on the trees," said Kern. "We're seeing the grasses come back. We are seeing in some cases where the fire gave us an inadvertent benefit of knocking down some trees and improving fish habitat. So we are also seeing great things as well.”

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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