BAER team heading to Pipeline Fire to assess severity of burn scar ahead of monsoon storms

An emergency response team is going to be studying the areas burned by wildfires near Flagstaff to assess flooding dangers.
Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 9:54 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — More people forced out by the Pipeline Fire are back home after evacuation orders were lifted for several neighborhoods. However, parts of the Coconino National Forest are still closed. The fire has now burned more than 26,000 acres and is currently 50% contained. Wildfires leave behind burn scars, and as we have seen in years past, they can really impact flooding in Flagstaff communities. The Burned Area Emergency Response Team arrived in Flagstaff Monday afternoon and plan to get into the Pipeline Fire burn scar areas Tuesday to assess the severity. These evaluations help the county and city identify post-fire risks like flash flooding and debris flow, which can help residents better understand what they’re up against this monsoon. “We are trying to get on the ground pretty quickly because we know this is a big fire and it has consequences for communities,” BAER coordinator with the Coconino National Forest Matthew O’Neill said.

O’Neill says the biggest worry is what the flooding could look like this monsoon, now that the Pipeline Fire has burned over other established burn scars. “It does look like a big swath of the 2010 Schultz Fire did reburn in this Pipeline Fire and essentially we are not really sure how the landscape is going to react to that,” O’Neill said.

A graphic from the National Weather Service helps explain why burn scars are such a big flood risk. Wildfires burn vegetation that, in some cases, would catch some of the water. In addition, ash stops the soil from absorbing water. Then during heavy rain, some of the ash is carried along with the water, causing dangerous flash flooding and mudslides.

Just last month, the BAER team was out researching the burn scar of the Tunnel Fire near Flagstaff, which burned more than 19,000 acres. The team deemed it “low soil burn severity,” or “unburned,” meaning the burn scar was not as severe as it could have been.

O’Neill isn’t sure yet what the Pipeline Fire severity map will show but says they plan to have the data to the county and city within the next three days. He says this information is crucial as monsoon storms begin to fire up. “Everyone is working real hard to try to get a grasp on what is going to happen so we can address effects where control measures are best going to be applied.” The City of Flagstaff is encouraging residents to prepare for the monsoon by placing sandbags throughout neighborhoods. They also say it is essential to buy flood insurance now.