Just weeks after the last wisps of smoke have gone out, the U.S. Forest Service is beginning to rebuild in the Willow Fire area.
The efforts include reseeding the burned lands with fast-growing barley and other seeds.
"Seeding is one of the most effective treatments," said Kathy Nelson, the implementation leader of the Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation team. "Seeding and mulching keep the soil in place ... it keeps the slopes from sloughing away."
The seeding will concentrate on the most intensely burned areas, which are typically along the high mountaintops in the southern tip of the fire area, southwest of Bar T Bar Ranch.
The Willow Fire burned 119,500 acres. The reseeding treatment will only affect 17,000 acres.
"The real mission of BAER is to protect values at risk, which include people, homes and highways," said Jon Loxley, a landscape architect and member of the BAER team.
The Forest Service contracts the reseeding work for the pilots and the seed. The whole project is expected to cost nearly $500,000. But rehabilitation will continue for years to come, Nelson said.
George Mitchell owns one of six companies nationwide that has the technology and equipment to reseed after large fires, he said.
Mitchell is a certified crop adviser with M&M Air Service, which provided three crop-duster planes to reseed from the air. The planes are even flying over protected wilderness areas, which are typically off-limits to any kind of machine, including cars and chain saws.
"After the first rain, with half an inch, the barley will sprout and take root, and the root will stabilize the soil and prevent a mudslide," Mitchell said.
There's also a side benefit to reseeding.
"The green barley is good grazing for deer and elk," he said. "The fire has run out all the animals. Soon the elk and deer will discover (the barley) and come back. Right now, there's nothing for them to eat."
Mitchell's team will try to drop 150,000 pounds of seed every day for 15 days, barring any strong winds or rains.