Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Earlier this summer, a plane flew over the burn scar of the largest fire in New Mexico's history, mapping each charred hillside and mountain slope, and every scorched home and tree.
The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire, which began as two Forest Service burns this year, grew across more than 340,000 acres in northern New Mexico.
Teren, a Colorado-based climate data and analytics company, is working with the U.S. Agriculture Department to map the burned forest and identify the areas at greatest risk of flooding and debris flow.
Remote sensing data allows the team to analyze the burn scar in detail without any “boots on the ground,” said Kat Kraft, Teren's product director.
“But then the data that we produce is utilized by boots on the ground to make their efforts really effective and as impactful as possible,” Kraft said. “Time is of the essence here.”
Teren flew a plane with a light detection and ranging sensor to create a 3-D model of the post-fire landscape.
The company then merged that data with burn severity maps and satellite data of the area before the fire.
The result is a comprehensive overview of soil type and landscape data that can inform homeowners and land managers if they are in a high-risk area.
Kraft said the post-fire response teams know they can't work on every acre burned by the blaze. But an assessment of the most impacted areas helps the crews intervene in a “way that matters the most.”
“Technology and these data-driven methods are going to be a key element to enabling that recovery,” Kraft said.
The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service is using the data and maps to identify areas that need mulching or reseeding.
Those treatments across the burn scar are designed to hold the soil in place.
The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire began on forest lands, but burned across thousands of acres of private property.
Loretta Metz, a national grazing lands assessment specialist for the NRCS, said the Teren project allows the agency to see every acre of private land affected by the blaze.
“We can compare and see how the landscape has changed after the fire, and then how it looks after the monsoons came to help us highlight where the problem areas are,” Metz said.
The federal agency is working with farmers and ranchers to protect their fields and pastures from post-fire floods.
Metz said the agency wants to use the Teren project to plan a healthy and resilient forest.
“The data on dead and fallen trees could help us determine how to get rid of that excess material with a conservation mindset, like turning it into biochar or mulch,” she said. “This data will really serve the communities for the long term.”