While many wildfires cause minimal damage to the land and pose few threats to the land or people downstream, some fires cause damage that requires special efforts to prevent problems afterwards. Loss of vegetation exposes soil to erosion; water runoff may increase and cause flooding; sediments may move downstream and damage houses or fill reservoirs putting endangered species and community water supplies at risk.
After a fire, the first priority is emergency stabilization in order to prevent further damage to life, property or natural resources. The stabilization work begins immediately and may continue for up to a year. The longer-term rehabilitation effort to repair damage caused by the fire begins after the fire is out and continues for several years. Rehabilitation focuses on the lands unlikely to recover naturally from wildland fire damage
In the Forest Service, the post-fire emergency stabilization program is known as the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program. The objective of the BAER program is to identify post-wildfire threats to human life and safety, property and critical natural or cultural resources on National Forest System lands and take immediate actions, as appropriate, to manage unacceptable risks.
BAER teams are staffed by specially trained professionals: hydrologists, soil scientists, engineers, biologists, vegetation specialists, archeologists, and others who rapidly evaluate the burned area and prescribe emergency stabilization treatments. A BAER assessment usually begins before the wildfire has been fully contained.
In most cases, only a portion of the burned area receives emergency stabilization measures. Severely burned areas, areas where water runoff will be excessive, or steep slopes above valuable facilities are the focus areas. The treatments must be installed as soon as possible, generally before a damaging storm. Time is critical if treatments are to be effective.
After BAER, rehabilitation and restoration is a long-term process that focuses on repairing infrastructure and natural resource damages caused by the fire and can take many years. Actions include: planting trees, reestablishing native species, repairing damage to facilities such as buildings, campgrounds, and fences, restoring habitats and treating invasive plants.