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Fire officials deal with the aftermath of wildfires in the burn scar areas

Bakersfield Firefighter
Posted at 10:46 PM, Oct 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-20 02:20:29-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — It's been a destructive and record-setting wildfire season in California. More than 2.5 million acres have burned throughout. Kern County has also seen several wildfires, including the French Fire, but now as temperatures cool, fire officials are dealing with the aftermath in the burn scar areas.

Although a significant storm system is expected early next week the National Weather Service said that from October to December there will likely be below-average precipitation totals, however, that does not mean that there will not be heavy rainfall or the possibility of mudslides.

“Where we’ve had these megafires the past couple of years- there’s certainly some vulnerability to that this winter,” said Todd Ellsworth, burned area emergency response team leader.

Ellsworth has about 30 years of experience studying the aftermath of wildfires.

“We generally come in when the fire is starting to go out and we start evaluating the burn mosaic,” said Ellsworth.

This is when Ellsworth and his team come up with a soil burn severity map and find areas of risk that could be impacted by post-fire flooding or debris flows.

While Ellsworth and the burned area emergency response team survey the aftermath to differentiate the hazardous areas, rangers with the forest service are out on the lines for initial suppression efforts where they work closely together to monitor areas of concern.

Al Watson a district ranger with the Sequoia National Forest said that heavy rainfall could lead to flooding and mudslides in many areas. Burn scar spots from wildfires are very sensitive to this. Hitting areas of decreased vegetation.

“When you have a hot area like that then you have a hydrophobic soil. Which basically means a drop that lands on that soil instead of being absorbed in it actually runs off,” said Watson.

Watson said the more water that repels, the greater the problem leading to runoff. He added the hotter the burn area the longer it’ll take the soil to regenerate.

“It takes a little bit. Sometimes up to a year for that soil to not be hydrophobic anymore. So, it really depends where it’s at, how hot it burned, and the steepness of it,” said Watson.

Therefore Watson said they are closely monitoring the area around Wofford Heights near where the French Fire burned this summer.

If heavy rainfall comes, fire officials ask the community to follow all protocols at the time as they have made various search and rescue efforts in the past throughout the entire state.

“One of the things about mud and debris flow is that it can move so so fast. And when people think that they will have a chance to hear it and be able to get out to their car and drive away from it, it’s not always like that,” said Kevin Albertson from the Bakersfield Fire Department.

It’s really a team effort between all of the local and state agencies from the National Weather Service to forest rangers and of course, the firefighters who are out there for both the initial response to the flames to everything that happens in the aftermath.

To stay informed on warning signs you can download the National Weather Service App with the nearest office in Hanford, alerts will always be sent out through there.