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Soberanes Burned Area Emergency Response

Unit Information

Los Padres National Forest
U.S. Forest Service
Goleta, CA 93117

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This incident is no longer being updated.

Soberanes Fire Suppression Repair Map for 10/19/20Image options: [ Full Size ]

The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) continues for the Soberanes Fire in the Los Padres National Forest. On October 12 BAER began an assessment of the southern half of the Soberanes Fire burned area. For the results of the BAER assessment for the northern half of the fire and Soberanes Post-Fire and Recovery Information please see County of Monterey Website.

View a video about how US Forest Service soil scientists evaluate wildfire effects on the soil and how those effects might influence the chances of flooding and debris flows. After the fire, watersheds are studied to learn how water repellent the soil has become and how mobile the soil is during rain events. When vegetation burns hot enough, waxy gasses are generated. The gasses penetrate the soil and cool a few inches down where the wax is deposited and creates a layer that makes it difficult for water to penetrate further. When it rains enough, water accumulates in the soil above the wax layer and the mixture flows downhill. Because the soil cover is removed, there is little resistance to this flow and floods can result.. Sometimes there is so much soil, logs, and rocks in the flood that it is a thick debris flow. Floods and debris flows can be very dangerous. They can threaten lives and damage homes, roads, and other developments as well as cause serious environmental damage.

The Soberanes Fire started on July 22 as the result of an illegal campfire and burned over an area of 132,127 acres. It was the largest wildfire of the season for the state of California and one of the 20th largest in the State’s history since 1932. The fire burned on federal, state and private lands in Monterey County over a period of months. Cooperators include CAL FIRE, Coast Property Owners Association of Big Sur, Monterey County Office of Emergency Services (OES), Monterey County Resource Management Agency (RMA),USDA Forest Service, Los Padres National Forest and USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). The fire was declared 100 percent contained on October 12.

While many wildfires cause little damage to the land and pose few threats to fish, wildlife and people downstream, some fires create situations that require special efforts to prevent further catastrophic damage after the fire. Loss of vegetation exposes soil to erosion; runoff may increase and cause flash flooding; sediments may move downstream and damage houses or fill reservoirs and put endangered species and community water supplies at risk.

BAER is an emergency program aimed at managing imminent unacceptable risks to human life and safety, property, or critical natural and cultural resources from post-wildfire damaging events. The Burned Area Emergency Response Team is sent to fires to determine the need for and to prescribe and implement EMERGENCY treatments to minimize threats to life or property and to stabilize and prevent unacceptable degradation to natural and cultural resources resulting from the effects of the fire. Teams identify values at risk from the effects of the fire.

The purpose of the BAER program is to assess and prevent damage from rain events on burned areas, not repair damage from either flames or flood after it occurs.

The BAER team’s role will be to assess watersheds on all lands, then inventory values at risk and determine the need for emergency measures and treatments on National Forest lands. The team will assess the watersheds for post-fire rain related impacts such as increased flooding, debris flow potential, and increased soil erosion.

The US Forest Service team includes the following specialists: wildlife biologists, archeologists, engineers, botanists, wildlife biologists, trails specialists, soil scientists, hydrologists, and recreation personnel.

Critical Values to be considered during Burned-Area Emergency Response

  • Human life and safety on or in close proximity to burned National Forest System Lands (NFS).
  • Buildings, water systems, utility systems, road and trail prisms, dams, wells or other significant investments on or in close proximity to the burned NFS lands.
  • Water used for municipal, domestic, hydropower, or agricultural supply or waters with special state or federal designations on or in close proximity to the burned NFS lands.
  • Soil productivity and hydrologic function on burned NFS lands.
  • Critical habitat or suitable occupied habitat for federally listed threatened or endangered terrestrial, aquatic animal or plant species on or in close proximity to the burned NFS lands.
  • Native or naturalized communities on NFS lands where invasive species or noxious weeds are absent or present in only minor amounts.
  • Cultural resources on NFS lands which are listed on or potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
  • In short, the purpose of the BAER program is to prevent damage, not repair damage after it occurs.

Mission of Soberanes BAER Assessment:

An analysis will be completed for the moderate and smaller scale watersheds. The BAER team will provide these analyses to the CAL FIRE State Post Fire Watershed Emergency Response Team, local agencies and landowners to help them finish the analysis themselves. The BAER team will include technical specialists from Federal, State, County cooperating agencies, as well as a consultant retained by the Central Coast Property Owners Association. An interagency flood risk assessment report for “Phase 1” of the Soberanes Fire will be prepared.

  • BAER products will include a Soil Burn Severity map and hydrologic, soils, and debris flow analysis. This requires a cooperative effort since almost all of the values at risk are located outside of the national forest with the Forest Service managing some of the upper watersheds. We will assess the moderate watersheds, or in some areas with many values at risk, smaller watersheds for post-fire rain related impacts such as increased peak flow, debris flow potential, increased soil erosion. This will be done across the entire Soberanes 1 BAER assessment area which is approximately all private and NFS lands north of the Big Sur and Carmel Watersheds (see attached image).
  • The Los Padres National Forest will conduct a second BAER assessment when the Soberanes fire finds its final perimeter, which may be weeks away. This second team will include Forest Service biologists, archeologists, roads, and recreation personnel. Coordinating the assessment effort are: Los Padres National Forest; Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); CAL FIRE; Monterey County Office of Emergency Services (OES); and the Central Coast Property Owners Association.
  • The Soberanes BAER team will produce and share these key products: Soil Burn Severity Map; Debris Flow Probability Map; and a Watershed Response Map. Other data shared will include calculations of increased peak flow in the evaluated watersheds; calculations of increased soil erosion; and a preliminary list of values at risk based on map and cursory ground surveys.

What happens with the Interagency BAER Assessment:

The Interagency BAER large scale analysis will be used by the State Post Fire Watershed Emergency Response team for further refinement at a smaller scale. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will use the information for refining post fire flood mitigation treatments and providing assistance to qualifying private landowners and to the Forest Service for use on mitigating the effects of post fire flooding to National Forest lands and to OES for sharing information with the public.

Location of Assessment:

The first BAER team’s assessment covered all the burned lands north and west of Big Sur and the Upper Carmel River. The second team will cover the remainder of the fire south and east of the two streams.

Information available on social media: Los Padres National Forest Facebook and Twitter.

COOPERATORS: CAL FIRE, Coast Property Owners Association of Big Sur, Monterey County Office of Emergency Services (OES), Monterey County Resource Management Agency (RMA), USDA Forest Service, Los Padres National Forest and USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

Basic Information

Current as of
Incident TypeBurned Area Emergency Response
LocationSoberanes Creek, Garrapata State Park, Palo Colorado/Big Sur, & Ventana Wilderness.
Incident DescriptionBaer Is An Emergency Program Aimed At Managing Imminent Unacceptable Risks To Human Life And Safety, Property, Or Critical Natural And Cultural Resources From Post-wildfire Damaging Events. The Burned Area Emergency Response Team Is Sent To Fires To Determine The Need For And To Prescribe And Implement Emergency Treatments To Minimize Threats To Life Or Property And To Stabilize And Prevent Unacceptable Degradation To Natural And Cultural Resources Resulting From The Effects Of The Fire. Teams Identify Values At Risk From The Effects Of The Fire Not In Response To Fire Suppression Activities.
Coordinates36.461 latitude, -121.901 longitude