Picking Up the Pieces: Post-Wildfire Recovery

We all know the devastation that wildfires can cause. We see the footage of billowing smoke, exhausted firefighters, and evacuated houses. We hear the containment statistics day by day as the raging fire is brought under control. And then – it’s out. Life goes back to normal.

Or does it?

There is a whole world of work that takes place in the aftermath of a wildfire – and off the cameras – to ensure that the emergency ends with the fire. It’s called Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) and it’s handled by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

BAER takes place when a post-wildfire region is subject to significant erosion, flash flooding, water supply contamination, or species endangerment. In these cases, a BAER team must step in quickly to stabilize the region. The BAER team must submit their first Emergency Stabilization Plan within seven days of fire containment. That’s not a lot of time when you’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of acres of newly resurfaced land. Unable to pull together all the data they would ideally need to make stabilization decisions, BAER teams frequently have to take their best educated guess.

INNOVIM is helping develop a new tool with Idaho State University, the Bureau of Land Management, and NASA to provide a more data-based approach for making these important decisions.  Called RECOVER, the tool is a geographic information system (GIS) that pulls fresh satellite images and derived data of the target zone. All the fire administrator needs to do is plug in the coordinates, and RECOVER does the rest.

The tool is being testing in the 2013 wildfire season in southwest Idaho. This pilot program will allow the team to finalize the tool and roll it out for use nationwide.

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