BAER & WERT Post-Fire Reports

 Thomas Fire BAER & WERT Post-Fire Reports

During the Thomas Fire that began on December 4, 2017, two teams quickly formed to evaluate watershed impacts that could threaten life, property, and cultural and natural resources. The U.S. Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Responses (BAER) Team evaluated changes to the watershed primarily in the Los Padres Forest Lands, while the CAL Fire Watershed Emergency Response Team (WERT) evaluated similar changes, primarily to private land outside the Los Padres Forest Lands.

In early January 2018, the two teams were still in the early stages of their assessments as a major storm system approached Santa Barbara County. Because it would take weeks or months for both teams to complete their official reports, the County combined preliminary information provided by the teams with historic data to prepare for the debris flows that the storms would cause.

The BAER and WERT reports were completed in late February 2018.


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During the Thomas Fire, that began on December 4, 2018, the U. S. Forest Service formed a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team. A BAER team is set up whenever a large fires impacts federal lands.

The BAER Team’s purpose is to assess threats to life, property, and cultural and natural resources from fire-induced changes to the watershed that can cause erosion, sedimentation, flooding, and debris flows.  While the Thomas Fire BAER report focuses on the Los Padres National Forest lands, it is essential in understanding the impacts on all areas below the Forest. The information is also critical for assessing the impacts on reservoirs within the watersheds.

At about the same time, CAL FIRE Watershed Emergency Response Team (WERT) was also formed to evaluate the impacts on the lands outside the Los Padres Forest boundary. The WERT report presents the results of a rapid evaluation of post-fire geologic and hydrologic hazards to life-safety and property for non-federal lands affected by the 2017 Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

During the Thomas Fire, the two teams collaborated in their evaluations. The County of Santa Barbara had worked with these teams before and recognized the value of integrating these scientific teams closely with County personnel to ensure decisions were based on as much information as possible.  The teams gave preliminary briefings to County Flood Control and Office of Emergency Management on their observations.  As soon as space was available, the teams moved into the County Emergency Operations Center to ensure that the County was receiving as much information as possible to begin planning for winter storms.

As the magnitude and impacts of the Thomas Fire on the south county watershed became clear, Flood Control and Office of Emergency Management personnel recognized the potential for a debris flow disaster. Because it would be weeks for both teams to complete their official reports, the County used the teams’ preliminary information as well as historic data to prepare for the debris flows that the storms would cause.

In December, as the Thomas Fire burned, the State Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) began assembling the SoCal Watershed Task Force, and by January 5th the Task Force was engaging state and federal agencies, BAER and WERT members, and affected counties regarding the Thomas Fire burn scar and concerns about incoming weather.  Following the January 9th Debris Flow disaster in Montecito, this team was quickly deployed to assess and map affected areas and assist the County to identify and begin addressing post-fire and post-debris flow threats to life and property.   To plan for future rain driven events, the County used this information, along with information gathered by the BAER and WERT teams, historical data, FEMA flood data, USGS models as well as a Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) imagery. The report from the Watershed Task Force is included in the WERT report.

The BAER, WERT and SoCal Watershed Task Force teams were made up of geologists, foresters, civil engineers, hydrologists, soil scientists, and GIS specialists from several state and federal agencies.

Note: the BAER and WERT reports are not intended to be fully comprehensive and/or conclusive, but rather to serve as preliminary tools to assist emergency responding agencies, utility companies, and other responsible agencies.

Contact Office of Emergency Management

4408 Cathedral Oaks Rd., Santa Barbara, CA 93110
Phone: 805-681-5526
Alisal Fire Recovery Information and Resources
Información y recursos de recuperación para el Incendio Alisal