Our Actions in Our Community for Reducing Fire Risk

BFSC has focused on directly reducing fire risk, educating and supporting others, and advocating for stronger action. Below are some of the successes we have had in meeting these goals. 

Reducing Hazardous Fuel

As mentioned on the home page, we have conducted 23 fuel reduction events involving over 50 neighbors and 400 UC Berkeley student volunteers, removing an estimated 75 tons of hazardous debris from the understory of several eucalyptus groves. Selected photos are below.

Supporting Public Officials

We have participated in FireFighter Recognition Days. We recently began a series of Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) collaboration meetings with Berkeley Fire Chief David Sprague and his staff to support the development of pending vegetation management and home hardening programs that will be supported by funds from Measure FF, and to set priorities for fuel reduction. We have also agreed to support the Fire Department and the City of Berkeley by a messaging campaign to educate residents about the need for vegetation management and home hardening.

Advocating for Needed Action

We have attended all of the City’s Disaster and Fire Safety Commission (DFSC) meetings over the past three years, and have made numerous public comments and suggestions. This included a presentation to the DFSC on the need to first clean up the eucalyptus understory and then to replace the trees with non-hazardous species. We also made this presentation to the Fire Chief and his staff.

We have made formal written requests to the Mayor and City Council of City of Berkeley, the UC Regents and UC Berkeley Chancellor, the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) management and board, and the East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) management to first clean up the understory and then replace the eucalyptus trees on their properties. We did not need to make a similar request to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory because it is already planning to replace the eucalyptus trees on its property with Live Oak.

We published an Opinion in Berkeleyside advocating for the clean up and replacement of eucalyptus in Berkeley. Other articles and publications are planned.

Informing Residents and Public Officials

We have conducted over a dozen tours to show city and university officials the condition of the eucalyptus groves in Northeast Berkeley. These have included tours for the Fire Chief, the Assistant Chief in charge of the WUI Division, city council members, and members of the DFSC.

We host an annual PotLuck dinner to educate residents of the nature of the catastrophic fire risk and how it can be eliminated, and to pass out educational materials on home hardening, evacuation planning and other relevant topics. The 2022 PotLuck was attended by over 150 residents and included talks by the Fire Chief and three City Council members. (add photo of Potluck)

We have collected the relevant scientific studies and expert assessments of eucalyptus driven fires in the United States and Australia, and have created a bibliography of pertinent documents. We are in the process of developing one-page summaries of each document to make it easier for decision makers to review the vast amount of information on the nature of the eucalyptus species and eucalyptus-drive fires

Supporting Preparedness and Training

We are working with residents on evacuation planning and preparedness. This effort has included creating a “Model Plan” for a neighborhood of about 30 residents (Hill Court). The plan includes preparedness, advance decisions on pre-evacuation on Extreme Hazard Days, and plans to help the elderly and physically challenged to escape a firestorm. We believe that self-created neighborhood plans of single blocks or small groups are needed to effect an actionable plan.

We have made presentations to community organizations about the nature of the catastrophic fire risk and steps residents can take, including Go-Bags and local neighborhood evacuation planning. One such presentation was to Ashby Village, an organization of over 2,000 members. 

Collaborating with Public Landowners

In addition to advocacy, we have collaborated with public agencies in the spirit of Private-Public Partnerships. This collaboration began with Berkeley Lab. We first gained permission to access the Labs property outside its fence line and conducted several fuel reduction events on its property. The Lab subsequently hired contractors to clean up the understory on parts of its property too steep for community members and students to access. We are now planning to support the Lab with briefing materials and scientific information to support the development of its hazard mitigation planning.

We have had several collaborations with the City of Berkeley. First, through Councilmember Susan Wengraf, we obtained the use of the Zero Waste Department’s large refuse bin to collect and haul away hazardous debris during our fuel reduction events. The City provides the bin service without charge and out of season. We have also collaborated with the Department of Parks and Waterfront to provide trucks and drivers for fuel reduction events in locations where the refuse bin cannot be placed. We have also received support from Councilmember Wengraf, Mayor Arreguin and Fire Chief Sprague in the submission of the Chancellor’s Grant application to combine fire science in the fuel reduction process. If successful, this grant will fund a collaboration with UC Berkeley’s Fire Research Laboratory under the direction of Professor David Gollner.

We played a role in directing $50,000 of the UC Berkeley-City of Berkeley Settlement Fund toward fuel reduction. This initial grant is being used by UC Berkeley to clean up the understory of two eucalyptus groves on its property, one below the end of Campus Drive and the other below the Vista Parking Lot of the Lawrence Berkeley Hall of Science. These are two of four groves on UC Berkeley land that are part of a line of groves we call “The Line of Fire” because they form a line of 12 groves and several thousand trees that extend from Grizzly peak Boulevard downhill to the west directly into Berkeley’s residential neighborhoods. We consider this group of groves to be perhaps the most dangerous fire hazard in Berkeley, and perhaps in America.

Coordination with Other Groups

We have recently begun to coordinate with other fire safety groups to advocate for risk mitigation. We are working with the leaders of the Claremont Canyon Conservancy (CCC) to map the eucalyptus groves in the east bay hills that threaten the wider area of Berkeley, Oakland, Kensington, Albany, El Cerrito and Emeryville. We are also joining with CCC and others in an initiative to form a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by these and other agencies to create an area-wide fire risk reduction plan. This is called The East Bay Hills Wildfire Prevention and Vegetation Management Coordination. We have met with the Marin County Fire Chief to understand their efforts, which are several years ahead of those in the East Bay. We are also joining the California Fire Safe Council to add our name to the growing list of fire safety groups that are calling for stronger actions by government agencies and large public land owners.