Post-Fire Damage Study 

It's going to be a whole lot of work to fix

A truck travels a muddy Deer Creek Road north of Hailey after recent wildfires and heavy rains caused several mudslides in the area.

Ed Glazar

A truck travels a muddy Deer Creek Road north of Hailey after recent wildfires and heavy rains caused several mudslides in the area.

Sharon LaBrecque of the Planning and Natural Resource Office for the Sawtooth National Forest doesn't even know how many hours she's worked in the past few weeks. Since the Burned Area Response Team landed to assess the Beaver Creek Fire near Sun Valley, it's been from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. every day.

"I'm very tired," LaBrecque said.

The 18-person team included hydrologists, biologists, soil scientists, geologists, engineers and archaeologists, coming from as far as Florida. One week, 18 people, 116,000 acres to study.

The report will be submitted to the regional office, then onto the Washington office, where the U.S. Forest Service will approve funding for proposed treatments.

Archaeologists focused on the heritage sites within the burned area. Between fire burning away the vegetation and soil erosion, some sites became exposed.

"The whole Ketchum district is filled with historic mining sites," LaBrecque said. One exposed site is an old mining mill built in the late 1800s and used until around 1910, when it was abandoned.

The team also found 64 miles of road within the burned area and 112 miles of trail. Nearly 61 miles of trail are in land that has been moderately to severely burned. LaBrecque said the damage renders the trails unsafe and unusable, requiring a number of them be closed until next season at the earliest.

"Trails that go through the bottom of valleys along creeks where floods can happen really put people at risk," LaBrecque said.

Leftover debris from the fire can be swept up in those floods, more likely to happen in burned areas from lack of vegetation, putting hikers in a very bad situation.

"We want to get [the trails open] as fast as possible; we have a huge job," she said.

The report recommends aerial reseeding and mulching the area by mid-October. Road work has already begun, as well as unplugging culverts.

LaBrecque said the most difficult part of the fire came after, with the heavy rains. She called the flooding and mudslides a traumatic event for the whole community. She's worked for the Sawtooth National Forest for 22 years, so she sees burned areas all the time, "but it's always a shock when you see your own forest burned up."

She added that the rehabilitation costs will be considerably less than putting out the fire, "but it won't be inexpensive."

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