Risk Assessment of “Superfund” Sites Affected by “Large Landscape Fires”

Editor’s note:  Here is Ken Till’s proposed risk assessment endeavor relating to the potential impact of large-scale wildfire on Superfund remediations in the Coeur d’Alene Basin area.  Thanks Ken!


Introduction:  This proposal merely addresses concerns about the potential negative consequences and potential damage upon those “EPA-Superfund Sites” given major catastrophic Stand Replacement Wildland Fires that may occur adjacent to those sites.  The possibility of major overland flows and rill soil erosion could occur given the post-fire effects in regards to soil stabilization.  I want to emphasize that this proposal IS NOT an overreach for money, but primarily an attempt to protect major investments of time and money involving the remediation and stabilization work accomplished on the EPA-Superfund Sites within those affected watersheds that flow into Lake Coeur d’Alene.

With the vast expenditures of close to one billion dollars it should be prudent, at the minimum, to put together a “Risk Assessment Team” to evaluate what level of threat is present given large catastrophic landscape fires in the upper reaches of those watersheds adjacent to “Superfund Sites”.  It doesn’t have to be said that the political consequence of a “No-Action” approach may resonate with the public at large.  There are many past examples of Post-Fire Effects of Stand Replacement Fires in the Western US that could mimic similar effects here given a major event.

Proposed Actions:  Put together a “Risk Assessment Team” to address the concerns of Post-fire effects upon those pre-identified sensitive areas that could impact “EPA-Superfund sites” which meet criteria that may be affected by major overland flows or sediment movement due to excessive rainfall events in the Fall following Summer Fires.

Team Could Consist of:

  • Centralized Dispatch – Addresses “Initial Attack” given a threat (i.e. Pre-Attack Dispatch Action Cards) that define level of response given a fire start.
  • Soils Expert (scientist) – Identify specific problem areas or sites given problematic soil types as well as the sub-surface flow potential.
  • BAER Team Leader or (Burn Area Emergency Restoration) person to define what emergency response could be provided given a Post-fire BAER Response (Wattles, Aerial Seeding, Gabion construction, etc.)
  • Fire Behavior Analyst (FBA) – Assessment of potential fire behavior for specific sites and areas that could be affected by multiple fire starts
  • EPA Representative – Define specific “Superfund sites” that have the most potential for damage from major overland flow and prioritize those areas where efforts need to be made for protection and stabilization (to get the biggest return for the effort)
  • DEQ – Post Fire monitoring of water quality given a trigger point that activates such response if a major incident or multiple incidents warrant it
  • Basin Commission Representative – Assist in the development of a “Risk Assessment Plan” and its implementation
  • Idaho Panhandle National Forest Representatives – Provide oversight of the development of the specifics of an Incident Action Plan (IAP) addressing this issue
  • All affected County Representatives

I envision four phases of how a “Risk Assessment” could be developed specific to the “EPA Superfund Sites”.  Those could consist of:

  1. Pre-determined triggers for mitigation measure to be implemented prior to an actual going Wildland Fire.
  2. Actions required during an actual going fire situation by an Incident Commander during Initial Attack (IA) and during extended attack by fire teams assigned to specific large fire incidents. Development of Incident Action Plans (IAP) for the affected area.
  3. Immediate Post-Fire (Incident) response by implementation of a BAER (Burn Area Emergency Restoration) Team. This Plan would include all issues with the fire, but would emphasize soil stabilization prior to fall rains.
  4. Lastly, undertake preventative measures by further assessment in order to realistically institute a fuels reduction program within those areas pre-identified by a “Risk Assessment Team.” This would involve treatment to mitigate the effects Stand Replacement Fires would have on EPA-Superfund Sites.

Conclusion:  This is a proposal merely pointing out the potential impact that a major incident might have with far-reaching ramifications.  Risks associated with the occurrence of Large Stand Replacement Fires in the upper reaches of Watersheds that flow into Lake Coeur d’Alene could significantly adversely affect “EPA-Superfund Sites.”  This proposal is based on my many years as both an incident commander on wildland fires as well as involvement on many Regional MAC (Multi-Agency Coordination) Groups during major fires in the Pacific Northwest as well as the Western U.S.

It should be noted that in many areas of the U.S. during the extended attack phase of large fires most MAC (Multi-Agency Coordination) Groups place a priority on protecting “High-Value” Watersheds, which means that the limited fire suppression resources (such as Type I Teams) are diverted to protect those Watersheds.  Examples in the Pacific Northwest are Bull Run-Portland, Mill Creek-Walla Walla, Ashland-So. Oregon, North Cascades-Seattle, etc.  The difference here in Northern Idaho is that not only are these important watersheds, but they have “Superfund Sites” associated with them.

A benefit of this proposed effort might be to “position” the affected Watersheds to receive future funding for “hazard fuels reduction” for areas that have potential adverse effects upon those EPA-Superfund Sites.

A “Risk Assessment” with a Contingency Plan in place would at least address the aforementioned issues in this proposal.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions in regards to this proposal.

Ken Till, kstill1@msn.com

This entry was posted in Column, Communication, Congress, Editorial, GAO, History, Letter to the editor, Links, O&C Lands, Op-ed, Press Release, Robin Stanley, Roizen and See, Ron, Science, Shoshone County Coalition, Uncategorized, WGA, Wilderness and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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