Tendrils of smoke may still be rising from some hot spots, but the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is already planning rehabilitation efforts on portions of the more than 18,000 acres burned on its Medford District this summer by the Douglas Complex fire.
"We're talking about rehabilitation for just the high-severity burned areas," stressed district spokesman Jim Whittington. "Like most fires, the Douglas Complex burned in a mosaic pattern.
"Quite a bit of the area had a low-intensity burn or no burn at all," he added. "That's just the whim of nature."
The agency is looking at long-term soil stabilization and vegetation rehabilitation in some of the heavily burned areas, he said, including roughly 1,700 acres of mulch. Some timber salvage is also being contemplated, although the amount has not been determined, he added.
A burned area emergency rehabilitation, or BAER, team made up of various specialists has been assessing the burned area, he said.
"Our goal is to rehabilitate the habitat where it makes sense," he said. "But there will be other areas where nature doesn't need any assistance."
The Douglas Complex fire, sparked by a July 26 lightning strike, burned some 48,700 acres — more than 76 square miles — in southern Douglas County and northern Jackson and Josephine counties. Although it caused several evacuations, it has largely been contained — without the loss of any homes — at a cost of $51.76 million.
The two main fires in the complex included the 24,439-acre Dad's Creek fire, which included 12,621 acres of the Medford District. Of the district land burned, 3,882 acres were of a moderate- to high-severity burn, Whittington said.
The Dad's Creek fire also burned 11,498 acres of private land, of which 3,748 acres were rated moderate to high severity, he said.
The other large fire in the complex, the 23,948-acre Rabbit Mountain fire, burned 6,216 acres in the Medford District. The BAER team identified 1,142 acres as moderate- to high-severity burn.
The fire also torched 6,267 acres on the BLM's Roseburg District, with 2,670 acres burned from moderate to high severity. The remaining acreage included 11,502 acres of private land, of which 5,952 acres were burned in moderate or high severity.
"The fire did expose some steep slopes where it burned hot," leaving sites where the soil was laid bare, Whittington said. "Stuff is going to move on us when we get some rain."
Much of the fire burned in the Cow Creek drainage, making what he described as big runs in late July and early August.
"A lot of the high-severity activity was in the Cow Creek area," he said. "In those areas, we are going to prioritize stabilizing the watershed and soils to prevent flash flooding as much as possible.
"The BAER team came up with a plan to mulch areas," he added, noting the target is some 1,700 acres. "They will also be doing water diversions along roads and trails, putting in water bars and dips where necessary."
Grass seeding will be applied to provide temporary soil stabilization until native plants can take over, he said.
"It's not atypical to have a pretty good flood after a fire like this," he said. "There is no vegetation to soak up the water in some drainages."
Several areas will be closely monitored because of the potential for flash flooding, he said. Residents living close to streams should pay special attention to the weather this winter because of flooding potential, he added.
Trees killed by the fire near roads will be removed because they can fall without warning, posing a threat to passers-by, he said.
"We will also be looking at economic recovery," he said, referring to salvaging some burned timber. "Some of the big fire runs went through matrix areas. Those trees are still standing."
However, before salvaging any trees from the areas that were set aside for timber harvest before the fire, the focus will be on soil stabilization and watershed protection, he reiterated.
"We are still in the assessment phase, but our priority will be soil and watershed protection," he said. "We have to get some straw on the ground to stop erosion."
The weather forecast for the next few weeks calls for warm weather with no heavy rain in the offing, he said.
"We plan to take advantage of that," he said. "There is a ton of work to be done."
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email@example.com.