Thursday, September 4, 2008

Report released on Gap Fire’s impact on area


As local leaders aggressively prepare for potential mudslides and floods in the areas below the Gap Fire in Goleta, the U.S. Forest Service released its report on the fire’s impact and recommended treatments.
Known as the Burned Area Emergency Response, or BAER, report, the 40-page document describes the 9,544 acres of land scorched by the Gap Fire in July.

With more than 75 percent of the area tagged with high or moderate burn severity, officials said the potential for mud and debris flows is very high.
“The fire completely burned off all effective cover on the majority of the burned area with the exception of some of the riparian areas in the bottom of the larger drainages,” according to the report. “…Runoff and sediment yield is expected to increase substantially in the first three years.”
Given the steep slopes and rugged terrain, forest officials are recommending aerial hydromulching in key areas to replace vegetation until plants sprout and grow again.
Hydromulch — a mix of paper and wood fiber, water and a plant-based binding agent that is organic and safe for the environment — is dropped from fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters.
Officials said it helps protect the soil from erosion while allowing native seeds to sprout and grow.
“Eventually, the new vegetation takes over its natural role in stabilizing the soil,” according to a news release from the U.S. Forest Service. “This generally takes 3 to 5 years.”
Forest workers hope to spray down hydromulch before the first significant rain. Authorities will close off the treated areas to the public for a year to protect the treatment.
As the blaze came closer to full containment, a team of specialists in hydrology, soil science, geology, biology, botany, archaeology and engineering convened to discuss the path forward.
The group considered a wide array of treatments, such as straw bale dams, water control structures, plantings and channel clearing, but the steep terrain wiped out many of those options, according to the report.
Authorities have estimated as much as 300,000 cubic yards of debris and dirt could flood down the slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains toward Goleta and unincorporated areas during winter storms.
County officials have been cleaning out creeks, streams and storm drains in anticipation of major storm runoff issues. Even so, they are warning local residents to prepare for the worst.
“We’re working to prepare the area for the flood and mud,” Tom Fayram, deputy director for the county’s public works department, said in a prepared statement. “It may not come all at once, but the public needs to know there is a potential for some serious flooding problems that we cannot control if we get heavy rain this winter.”
As a result, local leaders are holding a special meeting about the Gap Fire, flood insurance and landslide preparations next week at San Marcos High School. The hearing begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 11.
Officials warned that local property owners should purchase flood insurance ahead of time in order for the policy to go into effect by winter. Most policies require a minimum 30-day grace period, county leaders said.
Meanwhile, work continues as crews clear sediment basins and miles of creeks downstream from the burned area.
Forest Service officials plan to examine key locations in the forest to determine if debris racks or other structures should be installed. Forest workers also plan to coordinate with local leaders to prepare and disseminate emergency information.
Signs and barriers are installed throughout forest areas to prevent trespassing by off-road vehicles and workers are monitoring for any non-native plants that might compete with native vegetation as the environment recovers.
More information about the BAER report, including a copy of the document, is available at or the forest supervisor’s office at 6755 Hollister Ave., Ste. 150, in Goleta.

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