Fire in the East Bay Hills, August 2017

On Wednesday, August 2, 2017, a fire started in the Berkeley/Oakland hills in the San Francisco Bay Area.  This is an area with a history of catastrophic wildfires and so the media and the public paid close attention to the fire as firefighters fought to contain it. 

The East Bay Times reported that the fire began on Grizzly Park Blvd near mileage sign marker 14 and spread to 20 acres until it was contained late Friday, August 4, 2017. 

Dan Grassetti, the President of the Board of Directors of Hills Conservation Network, monitored the fire while it was in progress and when the road was opened again, he wrote the following report about the fire and what we can learn from it.  We are grateful to Dan for the photos he took and for sharing his observations about the fire.

The Hills Conservation Network is a 501C3 non-profit which advocates for fire safety in the East Bay.  Visit their website to see how they advocate for reducing fire hazards without clear cutting trees and using pesticides.  

Million Trees

I was able to tour the site today and took some photos. The fire was split between an area that had previously been treated [by removing all eucalyptus] by UC and an adjacent area that still had some eucalyptus. The fire took out all the ground fuels, including the dead tree carcasses [logs] that Tom Klatt [of UC Berkeley] had left there from years ago. Apparently what the experts tell us about live trees not being fuel while dead trees being fuel is true! [Despite what Tom Klatt tells us about UC’s projects, which leave the logs on the ground.]

This area on the west side of Grizzly Peak is known as Frowning Ridge. It is one of the first areas that was clear-cut by UC Berkeley over 10 years ago. Destroying the trees did not prevent the grass and shrubs from igniting in the August 2017 fire. Pictures of that area before and after the trees were destroyed are available here:
When UCB destroys trees, they leave the logs lying on the ground. Note that some of those logs burned in the August 2017 fire.

You will note that the fire burned under a number of trees, including Monterey pines and eucalyptus without igniting them. This is the same pattern we have seen in every fire site we’ve walked since the ’91 disaster.

On the east side of Grizzly Peak where eucalypts are still standing, the fire burned the understory and scorched the trunks of the trees, but did not ignite the trees. We have seen that pattern several times in past fires since 1991.

The lessons seem clear. Roadside party sites attract folks who start fires. If you’re going to have these zones you pretty much have to create a vegetation free zone a goodly distance from these sites. What burns in a wild land fire are the ground level fine fuels. Tall trees provide shade which tends to lessen the amount of ground level fine fuels.

Dan Grassetti, Hills Conservation Network

August 5, 2017

Addendum:  It’s foggy in the East Bay Hills today, August 6, 2017.  At midday, Frowning Ridge is barely visible through the fog. 


 Across the road, in Tilden Park, the trail is muddy under the trees that are dripping the fog from above.   The moist ground prevents fires from igniting and spreading.


A few trees were cut down by fire fighters on the east side of Grizzly Peak, in Tilden Park.  Their stumps are visible.


The trees that were cut down have been cut into pieces and stacked beside the road.  You can see that the bark of trees is charred by the fire in places, but the heart of the tree did not burn.


Million Trees

4 thoughts on “Fire in the East Bay Hills, August 2017”

  1. Everything burns when the fire is hot enough. So remove all the buildings in the hills.

    The fire did not spread. It was proven to be arson by the man who admitted to setting several fires in the East Bay hills with his cigarette lighter. How about banning such flammable items and leave the trees alone?

    As I keep saying, let the trees spread, stop thinning and pruning, and let the forest become as dense as it wants because that will make a healthier forest who is less inviting to arsonists (who start most fires).

    Stop blaming trees for what men do.

  2. That is a wonderful post and report and photos by Dan Grassetti. Frowning Ridge is a UC-caused disaster in the making, and then they cut more healthy trees to make more flammable grasslands and thistles?

    Wonderful example of the post clear-cut flammable area versus the moist fire-resistant forest.

  3. I went again to Huckleberry Preserve, and on the way and across the road from it, there is so much landslide devastation. So many houses on the brink and others already destroyed. The black plastic covering the hillsides is just lovely.

    And all this was because of the craze obsession with killing Eucalyptus, who were keeping the hills safe and secure. You can see the stumps in all the slide areas. I wonder if anyone is keeping track of the loss of houses from clearcutting Eucalyptus and the other hated plants, like broom, which keep our hills green and solid.

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