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House burns without igniting eucalypts

April 3, 2011

There was a fire in the Berkeley hills yesterday.  A home in the 1400 block of Queens Drive was gutted by the fire.  The home was completely surrounded by eucalyptus trees, some branches overhanging the home.  The trees did not ignite.  The leaves do not appear to be scorched by the fire.

Fire on Queens Road

Despite the fact that the trees didn’t burn, the news coverage of the fire focuses on the flammability of the trees:  “Eucalyptus trees are especially flammable and often used for kindling because of their oils.”  The accusation of flammability is not new.  We see it in any news story in which eucalypts are mentioned in any context, even those unrelated to fires. 

The claim that eucalyptus is used as kindling is something we have not heard before.  In fact, it makes no sense since the oil in eucalyptus is contained in the leaves, not in the wood, which is the usual definition of kindling.  However, we are accustomed to new anti-eucalyptus stories being fabricated at every opportunity.

We won’t repeat all the evidence that eucalyptus is not more flammable than other trees in this post because our readers have heard it all before.  We will just remind you that all reputable sources of information about preventing wildfires inform homeowners that the species of plants and trees are irrelevant to fire safety. 

All species of plants and trees will burn under certain circumstances, such as a wind-driven fire on a hot, dry day.  Property owners can reduce their risks of wildfire with appropriate maintenance, such as removing lower limbs on all trees, pruning trees and shrubs away from structures, and removing accumulated leaf litter.

In the case of the fire on Queens Road, the neighbors put themselves in harm’s way by parking cars on both sides of a narrow street, narrowing the road to one-lane which severely restricted access to the home by fire trucks. 

Parked cars restrict access on Queens Road

As usual, humans are always looking for a non-human scapegoat for the risks they choose to take.  Rather than taking care of the vegetation around their home and reducing the number of cars parked on a narrow road, they prefer to blame the trees.  In this case the trees had nothing to do with this fire.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 4, 2011 9:11 pm

    In ’91 many eucalyptus trees stood tall and in some cases contributed to fire breaks in the Oakland and Berkeley Hills. But when there was the opportunity, when all the homes in some areas were burnt to the ground and people were calling for creating a safer situation before any homes were rebuilt, widening streets, particularly as larger cars and trucks were becoming the norm, homeowners failed to take that opportunity. Developers instead were allowed to rebuild without changes to street widths, and building much larger houses, much closer together, in fact increasing the number of gas-filled appliances and cars in close proximity, in addition to the gas lines below ground. These are the explosives waiting to be triggered, time bombs.

    Appalling to many of us is the blatant disregard for the firefighters who go into this noble work to safeguard people. Right alongside talking about safeguarding people, pets, and wildlife, is that phrase about saving structures. It appears firefighters are being told that saving buildings is of high priority. But many of the people in these very structures have had a history of not taking reasonable responsibility for the fact that human beings are expected to try to save their homes in spite of not having any sort of clear access to those homes. I do not want to see one more firefighter’s life lost over a building.

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