The Fire is Out... What's Next?

After The Flames

Workshop & Conference

Speaker Abstracts

April 2 – 9:15 – 10:15 – Funding Recovery

John Andrews – United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service
USDA-NRCS’ Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program  has funded more than $100 million of post-disaster recovery projects in Colorado over the past ten years.   This presentation will briefly review the features and benefits of the EWP Program, emphasizing opportunities to fund and implement post-fire recovery measures on non-federal land.


April 2 – 10:30 – 12:00 – Collaboration and Communication

Christopher Tarantino – Epicenter Media and TrainingKnow Your Audience (better than they know themselves): Communicating risk & distilling complex information before, during, and after fire emergencies. This portion of the panel session will arm communicators with the tools necessary to identify segments of their audience to communicate more effectively.

Steven Sanchez – United States Forest Service
Gaining Trust to Get the Job Done.
What does “After the Flames” collaboration look like?  It is a borderless and selfless discussion and reaction to new landscape risks and urgency; with stakeholders and responding organizations; and with authenticity and trust.
Initially, post fire emergency response, stabilization, and restoration efforts are about identifying the values at risk, determining the threats and level of emergency response needed to respond to the threats, and then communicating to stakeholders and responding organizations with empathy and honesty.  Where successful, this is followed up with promptly putting hands and equipment on the ground and sometimes helicopters in the air, to address those threats.  It is not about government experts telling locals what they need to do, but more about presenting the information, and allowing local stakeholders to find solutions that are suitable for their communities.  It is difficult for people to fathom the energy that was once stored on hillslopes behind plants, trees and rocks is now mobile or becoming mobile and is no longer securely held in place.
Resourceful post fire emergency response, stabilization, and restoration efforts start before the flames are out.  Much collaboration has already taken place, data has been compiled, many responsible decision makers have been identified, and trustful relationships have been established.  With these in place, it is possible to effectively and efficiently start the healing process.
This presentation’s focus is to share after the flame measures taken from the most recent large fires in S. Central Colorado including, Hayman, Waldo, Hayden, Junkins, and Spring Creek.

Laura Myers – University of Alabama
Dr. Laura Myers will highlight lessons learned and best practices regarding communication challenges in extreme weather event warning dissemination in the 2018 Montecito Debris Flow Event and other high impact catastrophic events

Dave Jones – StormCenter Communications, Inc.
During and after the flames, communication and collaboration are critical to keep people safe and improve situational awareness. Agencies (state and federal), the private sector, and municipalities need to be able to share information across platforms and devices that is timely and trusted. For example, the National Weather Service needs information on soil conditions in burn scar areas to develop and issue accurate advisories and warnings. Municipalities need information to know where flooding or mudflows may occur and decide what areas are most at risk or in need of evacuation. Accredited geospatial data that can be shared in real time across platforms and devices offers a means to provide the communication and collaboration needed.

April 2 – 10:30 – 12:00 – Tools and Techniques for Risk Assessment

Bill Sjoberg – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service, Joint Polar Satellite System
Katherine Rowden – National Weather Service
Sam Batzli -Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies
Faster Access to Satellite-derived Input Maps for Post-Fire Flash Flood & Debris Flow Forecasting and Warning. 
Two of the major environmental disasters in the Western United States are wildfires and heavy rain.  When they happen within months, or even days, of each other they can threaten lives and cause millions of dollars’ worth of damage due to flash floods and debris flows from burned areas.  NOAA’s National Weather Service Weather Forecast Offices (NWS-WFO) use a variety of inputs to assess the risk of post-fire debris flows, support emergency management and response partners, and when necessary, issue Flash Flood Warnings. Post-wildfire risk assessments of burned areas, done by Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Teams, generally start with satellite-derived burn intensity estimates.  Typically, inputs from 30m-resolution Landsat imagery are used in the form of a BARC (Burned Area Reflectance Classification) map. However, BARC maps are not always available or can arrive too late to be of use for short-term forecasting and warning operations at NWS-WFOs. The goal of this project is to cut latencies by providing provisional coarser resolution (375m) satellite-derived inputs from the VIIRS sensor on the JPSS program’s NOAA-20 and Suomi-NPP satellites.  The resulting Burn Intensity Delta Greenness Estimation (BRIDGE) maps are designed to support NWS-WFO flash flood and debris flow forecasting and impact-based decision support services to emergency management partners.  The BRIDGE map is intended to “bridge” the gap between having no data at all and having access to a BARC map or final BAER Team risk assessment.  In CA, the JPSS satellites are part of a multi-satellite product that helps identify and track atmospheric rivers as they cross the Pacific before impacting the West Coast and the at-risk areas identified.  Where the heavy rains from these atmospheric rivers interact with burn scar areas, catastrophic flash floods and debris flows are a real possibility.  This presentation at the After the Flames Conference will focus on the satellite capabilities that help identify these areas of risk and how NWS forecasters can apply these products to prepare the public to respond to these risks.

Luke Javernic – River Science
Seth Mason – Lotic Hydrological
A major threat after wildfire is the potential for flood events many times larger than pre-fire floods. Characterization of post-fire flood magnitudes and flood inundation areas is necessary for protection of human life, property and critical infrastructure. While hydrological assessments are commonly completed shortly after large wildfires, the drainages affected by fire are often data poor and the typical Curve-Number approaches for rapidly estimating flood magnitudes are error prone. Even in cases where distributed rainfall-runoff models are developed, calibration to post-fire conditions remains a significant challenge. Furthermore, the possibility for significant sediment bulking of runoff in burn areas can lead to large inaccuracies in flood inundation modeling  for downstream areas. We present results from a hydrological and hydraulic assessment of a drainage affected by the Hayden Pass Wildfire and discuss how a failure to account for sediment bulking can greatly underestimate the areas impacted by post-fire flooding. 

Katie Jagt – Colorado Water Conservation Board
We will bring knowledge and discussion on the development and implementation of the State of Colorado’s Fluvial Hazard Zone (FHZ) mapping program. Experience has shown that substantial and persistent hazards in stream corridors are exacerbated by wildfires. Fluvial Hazard mapping is one of the best tools we can provide for landowners and communities working to understand risks related to erosion and deposition impacts within river corridors and their adjacent hillslopes.

April 2 – 10:30 – 12:00 – Species: Invasive and Threatened & Endangered

Janelle Valladares – USFS
The cutthroats in the South Prong of Hayden Creek, just east of Salida are unique in the literal sense of the word.  They are one of a kind.  There is no other known population with the same genetic makeup.  In 2016 the Hayden Pass Fire threatened these fish.  This was our response.

John Giordanengo – Alo Terra Restoration Services
The influence of High Park Fire revegetation treatments on native species diversity, plant community composition, weed cover, and hillslope erosion: Management Implications.
The Front Range of Colorado, with a history of fire suppression that can lead to substantial increase in fuel loads and tree canopy density, and due to its arid conditions and natural fire-prone conditions, has experienced several catastrophic wildfires over the past two decades: Hayman Fire, 2002 (137,760 acres), Buffalo Creek Fire of 1996 (12,000 acres), Waldo Canyon Fire, 2012 (18,247 acres), the High Park and Hewlett Fires of 2012 (combined 90,000 acres), and the West Fork Fire Complex (110,404 acres). The value of property loss from Colorado’s 2012 fires alone exceeded $583,000,000, with suppression costs of those fires exceeding $100,000,000. These costs do not include the cost of emergency watershed protection, restoration, and infrastructure recovery, estimated at over $5,000,000 for the High Park Fire.
Communities impacted by such fires, Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, Greeley, Loveland, and many others, have a legitimate concern for the effectiveness of post-fire emergency watershed protection measures. It has long been recognized that vegetation cover can influence sediment production and infiltration by reducing the velocity of overland flow, increasing surface roughness, creating soil pores through root activity, and by the soil binding properties of roots. However, little data exists describing the impacts of post-fire revegetation treatments on plant community composition, including species richness, structure, or sensitive or federally listed species. This talk will summarize two years of post-fire vegetation monitoring data, with a focus on total plant cover, plant species diversity and richness, weed abundance and diversity, and other plant community responses to revegetation treatments following the 2012 High Park Fire. From our data, and in the context of existing post-fire and erosion control literature, we draw conclusions about the potential effects of post-fire seeding efforts on plant species richness, exotic plan invasion, native plant cover, and hill slope sediment loss.

April 2 – 10:30 – 12:00 – Community Resilience

Garry Sanfacon – Boulder County
Building resilience during recovery: making services accessible, providing key individual assistance programs, preparing for flooding and debris flows, and prioritizing self-care

April 2 – 1:00 – 2:30 – Tools & Techniques for Risk Assessment

Dennis Staley – United States Geological Service
Post-fire debris flows: science, prediction, and early warning.

Jeremy Arkin – University of British Columbia
Discussion of current research in the creation of cost-effective methodologies to create high resolution, integrated fire severity-land cover maps using data acquired from simple unmanned aerial vehicles. These maps can be used to inform post-fire response, as well as evaluation of fuel treatments and suppression efforts.

Brett Gracely – Matrix Design Group
Westmont College contracted with Matrix Design Group to conduct post-Thomas Fire (December 2017) and post-Montecito debris flow (January 2018) hydrologic, channel hydraulic, and geomorphic assessments to inform risk-based decision making with respect to rain events and evacuation orders. This work included consultation with local, state, and federal agencies that had published post-fire reports, studies of debris flow potential, and flood hydrology and hydraulics reports and maps. These assessments focused on three primary areas: rainfall and runoff, channel hydraulics, and debris flow potential.  A one-year retrospective will be provided.

Joe Lange – NRCS
Post-fire Flood Risk Assessment Using H&H Tools for NRCS Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWPP) Eligibility Determinations in Washington State
Wildfires can cause significant changes to the hydrologic response in a burned watershed and determining the downstream flood risk to life and/or property in a timely manner can be a difficult problem. In Washington State, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has developed a procedure, using hydrology and hydraulic (H&H) tools, to determine the change in flood risk from pre- and post-fire conditions.
For this procedure, a rainfall-runoff model is used to develop flow hydrographs from pre- and post-fire conditions. These hydrographs, along with high quality LiDAR data, are then used in a 2-Dimensional hydraulic model to develop flood maps. A depth-velocity flood map is then used with flood hazard charts to determine the danger (risk) level for pre- and post-fire conditions. The risk levels are then used to help determine site specific eligibility requirements for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWPP).

April 2 – 1:00 – 2:30- Flood Mitigation & Erosion Control

Paul Santi – Colorado School of Mines
Post-wildfire changes to erosion potential, hydrology and water systems, debris-flow generation. Discussion of mitigation methods, debris-flow hazard assessment, and prediction of debris-flow volume and velocity.

Dana Butler – USFS
Watershed Recovery with a Little Help from My Friends
Fire recovery is one of those areas of watershed science where I am always learning and some days I feel like I know less now than I did ten years ago.   The path to watershed recovery starts with a good understanding of the affected watershed and setting realistic flood and erosion mitigation expectations.  Hillslope recovery and what to expect depends on soil burn severity, topography, soil types, precipitation intensity and duration, but it is also critical to understand conditions on the ground before the fire.  No matter where I travel for post-fire restoration, I find it important to start by meeting with the local landowners, land managers, and government officials to help better understand the history and uses of the landscape as well as to identify the significant values at risk.   This process means walking around in the burnt woods with the locals who will be implementing recovery efforts, meeting with affected landowners and hopefully getting an aerial view of the burned area.
In the US Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program we focus on the emergency response to protect life/safety and unacceptable risks to property and infrastructure.   The US Forest Service takes a holistic approach to watershed recovery often starting in the headwaters and working our way down to where the highest energy and risk is concentrated.  In communities that are experiencing large fires for the first time, I am often asked, how soon can you fix the watershed?   The answer is that emergency response and watershed recovery is a bit more like Mother Nature’s little helper to accelerate watershed recovery.  I have found that is critical to understand the community needs, skillsets and budgets.  We also work with partners to educate at risk communities on how to be prepared and get out of harm’s way when storms come.   This presentation will share some examples of this process where I have worked with local stakeholders, some whom have never done anything like this before, to develop prescriptions and implement restoration mitigations.

Aaron Sutherlin – Matrix Design
Matrix Design Group, Inc. supported the City of Colorado Springs in delivering multiple Emergency Watershed Protection grant-funded projects in response to the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire.  As Water Resources Project Manager Aaron directed the design and implementation of stabilization projects within and adjacent to the burn area.  Projects addressed increased runoff and sediment supply as a result of post wildfire watershed modifications.

April 2 – 1:00 – 2:30 – Infrastructure and Utilities

Kevin Houck – Colorado Springs Utilities
The Threat of Post- Wildfire Flooding and Debris Flows
A large portion of Colorado is covered by steep forested watersheds.  Due to decades of effective wildfire suppression and limited management of forest health, the risk of catastrophic wildfire is substantial throughout much of the state’s mountainous areas.  The threat of severe wildfire and dangerous post-fire debris flows and flooding has led large water providers to increase and focus their efforts in mitigating impacts from these events to their water supplies and system infrastructure.  These efforts include increased forest management efforts, and pre-post fire planning to prepare for the significant changed conditions that can follow catastrophic wildfires.

April 2 – 1:00 – 2:30 – Pre-fire Planning for Post Fire

Brad Piehl – JW Associates
How to identify post-fire hazards before the fire that aid post-fire recovery and trends in watershed protection projects designed to protect critical water supplies. 
Past wildfires in forested watersheds that supply water to communities have caused negative impacts, from increased sediment yield, debris flows, and flooding. It is imperative that water supply agencies and municipalities plan for wildfires in their critical watersheds in order to minimize the impacts and have plans to respond quickly to post-fire conditions. in 2015, JW Associates completed assessments, hazard analysis and post-fire planning for Huerfano County Water Conservancy District, Huerfano County, and the Towns of La Veta, Walsenburg and Cuchara in Colorado. In 2018, the Spring Creek Fire burned much of the assessment area. We are now working on post-fire recovery and mitigation following what was the second largest wildfire in Colorado. This presentation will describe the work that was completed prior to the fire and the value of the completed actions as viewed from the post-fire conditions perspective. Brad will also present the current trends in watershed protection efforts from two other watershed collaborative efforts – Colorado-Big Thompson Headwaters Partnership and Colorado Springs Utilities.

Zander Evans – The Forest Stewards Guild
Since fire is almost inevitable in some ecosystems, it is worth investing now in planning to minimize post-fire impacts and encourage recovery. One tool for pre-fire planning is the community wildfire protection plan (CWPPs). Examples are emerging across the West of how CWPPs can encourage post-fire recovery. Another key tool is debris flow modeling to highlight where we expect the biggest threats after wildfire. Discussions will focus on sharing solutions from participants’ communities and identifying knowledge gaps.

Tammi Renninger – Elephant Fish
With input from the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, a GIS analysis was conducted to assist in prioritizing hazardous fuels and non-fuels mitigation projects as part of the Greater Woodland Park Healthy Forest Initiative (GWPHFI) Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) Stream-Stats tool was used to create sub-watershed focus areas and assess pre-fire overland water movement. Additionally, fire intensity and wildfire risk data were extracted from the Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal (CO-WRAP) and the statistics were collected for each sub-watershed. These data along with data collected from the Subdivision Wildfire Hazard Rating Form were compiled to rank each sub-watershed into priority “Tiers”. All data were assessed and analyzed within ESRI’s ArcGIS Desktop and maps of the data assessment were included in the GWPHI CWPP, published 2017.

Jason Kean – USGS
After a wildfire, there is often little time to plan for flooding and debris flows that follow. The USGS conducts debris-flow hazard assessments rapidly after major fires in steep terrain. These assessments are used by federal, state, and local agencies to identify values at risk and develop emergency response plans. Often, however, there is insufficient time between the fire and the first rain storm to fully develop emergency response and evacuation plans.  More complete planning can be achieved by assessing the potential for debris flows before a fire occurs. To this end, we developed an approach to assess the potential for debris flows using wildfire and rain storm scenarios based on historical data.  This approach allows for a timelier assessment of the likelihood and potential volume of debris flow should the watershed burn. In addition, the approach may be extended to include an assessment of potential debris-flow runout paths and impacts, which generally cannot be conducted after a wildfire because it is too time consuming.

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