Rehabilitation of Fire Suppression Actions Becomes a High Priority as Fire
Incident: La Brea Fire Wildfire
Rehabilitation of Fire Suppression Actions Becomes a High Priority As Fire Winds Down
Santa Maria, Calif. - As the La Brea Fire nears containment, repair of fire suppression operations has begun on the over 148 miles of fire line that either directly contained the fire, or were built as a contingency.
The Incident Command Team has three rehabilitation groups and two road groups spread out around the fire perimeter. Equipment used to accomplish the work includes dozers, excavators, graders, water tenders, and hand crews.
Since the beginning of the fire, resource advisors from the Los Padres National Forest have worked closely with firefighters to identify and protect important cultural artifacts, wildlife habitat, and watershed features which has helped minimize rehabilitation needs.
Construction of containment fire lines is an inherit ground disturbing activity and the current effort is designed to minimize soil erosion, sedimentation, and control future off-highway vehicle use. To effectively suppress the fires, it is necessary to clear vegetation down to mineral soil removing grass, shrubs, and in some cases trees, ranging from a few to several feet wide.
Fire and rehabilitation crews follow guidelines to begin initial rehabilitation that will minimize the potential of future erosion on the bared fire lines. A primary job is to install and construct water bars on fire lines with grades steeper than 10%. Water bars, which are shallow perpendicular berms on steep slopes, divert water into vegetated or natural areas. Water bar spacing is dependent on fireline slope. For a 10-15% slope the water bars are placed 150 feet apart, a 15-30% slope 100 feet apart, a 30-40% slope 50 feet apart, and a 40% + slope 25 feet apart. Water bars must be placed before fall or winter rains start.
Firefighters also eliminate berms and rocks over the width of the fire break. All these activities initially only begin on non-direct fire lines that are approved by fire suppression personnel.
To restore vegetation on bare ground, natural seed is the preferred choice. This is accomplished by the abundance of seeds in the soil. Brush is also put back into the cleared areas where it acts as a shelter to help keep the seeds from being washed away by rainfall. This brush helps minimize surface and gully erosion, as well as minimizing sediment delivery to stream channels.
Facilities constructed for fire suppression support such as firefighter safety zones, helicopter landing spots, and remote spike camps also must be removed or restored. Another rehabilitation task is to remove all equipment, debris, signing, and flagging related to fire suppression.
Spike camps are areas set up to provide firefighters a place to stay out in the forest while they are fighting the fire. Helispots are constructed so helicopters can access the fire area to drop off firefighters and equipment. The containment lines are made to clear fuel (vegetation) and protect wilderness areas. The line created acts as a firebreak.
While two thirds of the La Brea Fire is located in the San Rafael Wilderness, minimal fire lines were built there. Firefighters have used Minimum Impact Suppression Tactics (MIST) that minimizes the effects of fire suppression on the lands within the Wilderness and elsewhere when conditions and fire behavior provided that opportunity. When combined, MIST reduces the amount of disturbance created by fire lines in critical areas and also reduces the amount of subsequent repair work.
"I'm extremely pleased with the care demonstrated by our firefighters for wilderness and cultural values said Incident Commander Jeanne Pincha-Tulley. A major reason for their ability to be successful is the excellent field guidance provided by our resource advisors and tribal liaison."