Since 2003, USGS and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) have provided satellite-derived burn severity mapping products to meet the requirements of Burn Area Emergency Response (BAER) Teams. BAER teams are mandated to quickly (within 2 weeks) evaluate the effects of wildfires and develop mitigation plans to protect valuable natural resources and human life and property and to promote landscape recovery. Previously, 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 or 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. Over the life of the program (2003-2012), the USGS and USFS have mapped over 1,200 wildfires that burned more than 38 million acres. In 2012, over 6 million burned acres were assessed, a single-year record for the USGS/USFS burn mapping support team.
Landsat image (left) and soil burn severity map (right) for the West Garceau fire located near Polson, Montana, on the Flathead Indian Reservation. This fire burned approximately 10,000 acres in August 2012. Within the severity map, dark green is non-burn, light blue is low severity, yellow is moderate severity, and red is high severity.