Tech firm maps Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak burn scar
Earlier this summer, a plane flew over the scorch scar of the largest fire in New Mexico history, mapping every charred hillside and mountain slope, and every scorched house and tree.
The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire, which started with two Forest Service fires this year, has spread over more than 340,000 acres in northern New Mexico.
Teren, a Colorado-based climate data and analytics company, is working with the US Department of Agriculture to map burned forest and identify areas most at risk from flooding and debris flows.
The remote sensing data allows the team to analyze the burn scar in detail without any “boots in the field,” said Kat Kraft, Teren’s product manager.
“But then the data that we produce is used by the boots on the ground to make their efforts really effective and as impactful as possible,” Kraft said. “Time is running out here.”
Teren flew an airplane with a light detector and telemetry sensor to create a 3D model of the landscape after the fire.
The company then merged this 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 landowners and land managers if they are in a high-risk area.
Kraft said fire-response crews knew they couldn’t work on every acre scorched by the blaze. But an assessment of the worst-affected areas helps crews respond in the “way that matters most”.
“Technology and these data-driven methods are going to be a key part of enabling this recovery,” Kraft said.
The US Natural Resources Conservation Service uses the data and maps to identify areas that need mulching or reseeding.
These treatments across the burn scar are designed to hold the soil in place.
The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire started on forest land but burned on thousands of acres of private property.
Loretta Metz, national pasture assessment specialist for the NRCS, said Project Teren allows the agency to see every acre of private land affected by the fire.
“We can compare and see how the landscape changed after the fire and then what it looks like after the monsoons come in to help us highlight problem areas,” Metz said.
The federal agency is working with farmers and ranchers to protect their fields and pastures from flooding after a fire.
Metz said the agency wants to use the Teren project to plan for a healthy and resilient forest.
“Data on dead and fallen trees could help us figure out how to get rid of this excess material in the spirit of conservation, like turning it into biochar or mulch,” she said. “This data will really serve communities in the long run.”