Since 2003, the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Remote Sensing Applications Center (RSAC) have jointly provided satellite-derived burn severity mapping products to meet the requirements of DOI and USFS Burn Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams. BAER teams are mandated to quickly (within 2 weeks) evaluate the effects of wildland fires and develop mitigation plans to safeguard valuable natural resources, protect human life and property, and promote landscape recovery. Derived from Landsat images, the soil burn severity map is a major resource used by the BAER teams to develop postfire hazard mitigation prescriptions. Additionally, burn severity maps are provided to USGS Landslide Hazards staff to support ongoing debris flow modeling and prediction analyses associated with wildland fires.
The USGS EROS Center rapidly processes Landsat and other satellite imagery enabling the timely generation of map products for large wildland fires on DOI-managed lands, 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 and through the 2015 fire season, the USGS and USFS have mapped 1,594 wildfires representing 46.7 million burned acres in support of BAER and local DOI and USFS land managers.
In 2016, wildland fire activity on DOI-managed lands is expected to be extensive. By early June, the USGS had responded to five DOI requests for burn area mapping support. Additionally, USGS assistance was requested by the Provincial Operations Centre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to help with the acquisition of Landsat and other satellite imagery for the over 1-million acre wildfire near Fort McMurray.
Landsat postfire image (September 20, 2015; left) and preliminary soil burn severity map superimposed on a Landsat prefire image (September 1, 2014; right) for the August/September 2015 National Creek Complex fire in Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park. The fire burned 16,744 acres just north of Crater Lake and was the largest in the recorded history of the park. Within the postfire image, the burn scar is medium to bright red while vegetation is various shades of green. Within the burn severity map, dark green is non-burn, light blue is low severity, yellow is moderate severity, and red is high severity. The approximate burn perimeter is designated by a red polygon in both images.