The Pack Creek Fire has grown fewer than 20 acres since June 17, so federal officials have come on sight to begin an evaluation of soil burn severity that will inform analyses on flood potential on the mountain, the impacts on recreational trails, and more.
Like the firefighting process, response to fires after the fact are a “shining star of interagency collaboration,” according to Jess Clark, who is training to become a Burned Area Emergency Response team lead. The two together have 15 years of experience fighting and mapping fires.
Clark is working alongside Brendan Waterman, the team leader on the response to the Pack Creek Fire and the Bennion Creek Fire between Price and Spanish Fork. The two said it “takes a village” to fight wildfires and respond to their effects.
The primary agencies involved in burn response are the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which houses the Forest Service, and the Department of the Interior, which houses the Geological Survey.
But federal agencies are not the only ones involved. Grand County, the City of Moab, the State of Utah and its own subdivisions all have their own stake in understanding the effects of the Pack Creek Fire, and Waterman said that his team will work with all of them.
The reports the team will generate are not going to be Master’s theses, Clark said. The team only has a few days to evaluate the burned area, and storms ironically stand to interfere with the evaluation.
The rain in Moab on Tuesday was light on the mountain, according to a Wednesday morning update from the firefighting team. Continued moisture in the area is expected to aid in fire suppression; it was unclear as of time of publication what impact the rains would have on the burned area evaluation.
What the team will produce is a map of the burned area showing the severity of soil burn across the mountain. The team has already compiled preliminary data on the Bennion Creek fire.
The next steps after evaluating soil burn will be working with local experts with specific knowledge about the Moab District of the Manti-La Sal Forest. That will help evaluate the many knock-on effects that burn damage may or will have.
A specific example Waterman cited was anticipating flood severity — what areas might expect full-sized trees to wash down and create problems? What trails stand to wash away because of greater erosion?
Of great interest to locals will be an evaluation of the impacts on water quality in Moab. According to Clark and Waterman, impacts on water quality tend to be strongest when short-duration, high-intensity storms wash burned material into local reservoirs.
In Moab, snowfall in the La Sals tends to be the primary source of local drinking water, and that water is filtered through area’s natural groundwater systems, both of which they said will mitigate the potential for degraded water quality.
A burned area report, soil burn severity map, debris flow threat assessment, and a number of other data products are expected in the coming weeks. The Times-Independent will have a report in the coming weeks digging deeper into the water quality response by local officials.