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.
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.]
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.
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.