Remote Sensing Support for Burned Area Emergency Response Teams

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Since 2003, USGS and the USFS provide burn severity mapping support to meet the requirements of Burn Area Emergency Response (BAER) Teams. BAER teams are mandated to quickly (2 weeks) evaluate the effects of wildfires and develop mitigation plans to protect valuable natural and man-made resources from landslides and to promote landscape recovery. Seven to 8 years ago, BAER teams relied upon sketch mapping to delineate severity patterns on topographic maps.  Today, satellite imagery has largely replaced the manual methods for BAER teams.

USGS rapidly processes Landsat and other satellite imagery enabling the timely generation of map products, generally less than 2 days after fire containment. These map products allow the BAER teams to better understand the patterns of burn severity and make more precise mitigation recommendations. Since 2003, USGS and USFS have mapped over 1,000 wildfires representing over 35 million burned acres in support of BAER and local DOI and USFS land managers.

soil burn severity map for the Pains Bay fire located near Manns Harbor, North Carolina

Landsat image (left) and soil burn severity map (right) for the Pains Bay fire located near Manns Harbor, North Carolina.  This fire impacted over 45,000 acres and burned from approximately early May to late July 2011.  The fire was mapped over the course of the incident to provide local fire managers with timely burn information.  Within the severity map, dark green is non-burn, light blue is low severity, yellow is moderate severity, and red is high severity.