Old Folks Flat Campground near Huntington, Utah, normally would be buzzing with hikers lacing up their boots and barbecuing burgers.
Instead, prairie dogs have the run of the place, ever since the U.S. Forest Service gated off the wildfire-scarred area, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The flames might be gone, but danger remains at the popular central Utah getaway. So says Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service. As he gazes up a slick and charred hillside, he sees a mountain landscape ready to melt into a mudslide.
Four days earlier, the Seeley Fire had destroyed the green glue — the vegetation and roots — that holds together the forested slope. A downpour anytime in the next three years could drag the hillside into the campground and through tent sites, rustic latrines and gathering spots.
“That’s really why we’re here,” says McInerney, the scent of doused campfire surrounding him and seemingly everything else within the 48,000 acres burned in Huntington Canyon. “We want to warn [of] these big, scary events.”
Such warnings demonstrate a new dimension of teamwork between the weather service and other agencies in forecasting mudslides on torched terrain.
The idea is to look at burned wildlands as well as the so-called “urban-wild-land interface” — residential patches on the edge of forests and ranges such as the fringe of suburban Alpine, where the recent Quail Fire devoured 2,222 acres.
The forecasts are also part of a wider effort by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the weather service’s parent agency, to put its scientists and weather-tracking instruments to use providing practical, weather-related information — meteorological news you can use, if you will.
John Chatel leads a Forest Service team that focuses on restoring big burn areas, and McInerney has been invited to work with his specialized group on the Seeley Fire.
This Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team works like a disaster-cleanup unit that rehabilitates areas scorched by fires, assesses immediate threats to high-value forest resources and suggests options for restoring areas over the long run.