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Three Rivers Fire

Unit Information

Lincoln National Forest
U.S. Forest Service
3463 Las Palomas
Alamogordo, NM 88310

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Three Rivers BAER Assessment White Paper - May 2021

Three Rivers Fire Wildfire
News – 6/4/2021

Three Rivers BAER Assessment

May 2021

Smokey Bear Ranger District

Lincoln National Forest

White Paper

  Introduction The Three Rivers Fire started April 26, 2021, just inside the White Mountain Wilderness, above the Three Rivers Campground.  It quickly spread into the White Mountains Wilderness and up into the western escarpment on the Smokey Bear Ranger District located on the Lincoln National Forest (LNF), over the mountain ridges into the Little Bear burn scar on the east.  Fuel types were within initially pinon juniper, moved into ponderosa and to the top of the mountains into the high elevation mixed conifer and alpine grassland vegetative types. The fire burned from 1925 meters elevation to 3420 meters elevation at the hill northwest of Lookout Mountain.    The west side of the White Mountains form part of the western escarpment dropping into the Tularosa Basin.  This western escarpment is composed of steep cliffs and vertical rises.   and mountain range composed of an igneous and limestone mix.  The higher elevation has mixed conifer, with the mid and lower slopes of the mountains composed of Ponderosa pine forests, grading into pinon juniper woodlands.  The mountains terminate abruptly into pinon juniper, and once out of the hills, gives way to desert scrub.  The mountain slopes are steep, with talus slopes and boulder fields prominent.  The high elevation slopes hold some water, especially on the east side, but on the western escarpment surface flow from rain cascades off the steep slopes and directly into the heads of the drainages.  There are several springs at the foot of the White Mountains that produce a small but steady amount of water.  Three Rivers is a perennial stream, as it flows 9 months out of the year.  The stream retains deep pockets and pools of water that, although seemingly unconnected on the surface, do not dry up, and allow survival of aquatic biota.    The Three Rivers burned area is 98% located within the White Mountain Wilderness.  Much of the White Mountains is designated wilderness, and only accessible by foot traffic.  The terrain has been described as rocky and challenging, with rolling hills at the foot of the mountains and steep cliffs and talus slopes in the upper reaches of the mountains.  Elevations range from 5,400 to 10,083.  Annual precipitation for the White Mountains is about 19 inches, and the precipitation pattern is bi-modal with 70 percent of the precipitation coming during the summer months and the remaining 30 percent coming as snow during the winter months.  Those areas within the burn that experienced moderate to high severity burn pose the potential for accelerated erosion and loss of water control.  This is especially true of the western escarpment that burned during the fire     BAER Critical Values The Three Rivers fire burned with 647 acres of high severity burn, 2317 acres of moderate severity burn, and 2885 acres as low and unburned severity.   The fire burned up the western escarpment and into the high elevations of the 2012 Little Bear burn scar, impacting areas that had started to recover from that landscape-scale stand-replacement fire. Little to no vegetative ground cover remains in the high severity burn areas of mixed conifer, alpine and sub-alpine grassland and ponderosa habitats.  Dropped needles and vegetative sprouting was noted in the moderate burn severity sites.   Grass root collars remain intact within a majority of the moderate and low burn severity areas of the grassland and pinon-juniper vegetation type, and these areas have already started resprouting. The burned area will experience higher than normal erosion and overland water flow due to loss of vegetative cover, especially in the upper elevations with the steep terrain, until vegetative cover becomes re-established.      Post-fire conditions will impact the values at risk listed below.  It has been determined from the BAER assessment and modeling that there are risks to public safety, property, infrastructure and natural resources.  The following are values at risk, which includes a public safety risk.   Table:  BAER Critical Value Matrix   Probability of Damage or Loss Major Minor Very Likely Very High Likely High  Possible Intermediate Unlikely Low

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