Risk Assessment Completed For Mullen Fire Area

Nov 13, 2020

The burn severity map is part of the BAER assessment.
Credit US Forest Service

The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team assembled by the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland has completed its assessment for the Mullen Fire area. 

The Mullen Fire started on September 17 and has burned 176,878 acres in southeast Wyoming. It is 97% contained.

The assessment evaluates the risks an area poses to human life, safety, and property, as well as to cultural or natural resources.

"After a fire, there may still be emergency conditions that exist. The fires change the landscape," said Dave Gloss, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) hydrologist and BAER team co-lead. "There's a loss of vegetation that may leave the soil exposed to erosion and water therefore may be less likely to infiltrate into the soil and runoff. And that increased runoff may result in flooding or debris flows."

The Mullen Fire burned in a mosaic pattern, meaning that some areas burned more intensely than others, which could distribute the potential risks across the landscape. According to Gloss, some areas are already seeing growth.

"Our assessment found there was already vegetation starting to grow back in some of the riparian areas in the burn area just a couple weeks after it burned," said Gloss. "There are live roots under the ground surface in a lot of areas which is a positive sign because that means that there's material that will allow that vegetation period to come back."

The team estimates it will take three to five years before there will be enough ground cover to stabilize the area by allowing water to infiltrate the soil instead of running off of the surface. According to Gloss, this is an average amount of time for this part of the country.

Burned areas are prone to landslides and downed trees which may block trails or roads. Recreationists can find the BAER assessment on the USFS website and can use that information to make decisions on what areas to use. An area closure remains in effect for the impacted area.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Ivy Engel, at iengel@uwyo.edu.

Correction 11/20: A previous version of this story cited the date on InciWeb (October 17) as the Mullen Fire's start date. The fire actually started on September 17, according to the Forest Service.