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 28 fuel reduction events involving over 50 neighbors and 500 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 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 many of the City’s Disaster and Fire Safety Commission (DFSC) meetings, 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 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 non-hazardous, non-invasive species.

We published Opinions in Berkeleyside and other publications advocating for the clean up and replacement of eucalyptus in Berkeley, and for vegetation management and home hardening efforts.

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 Berkeley. These have included tours for the Fire Chief, the Assistant Chief in charge of the WUI Division, several city council members, and several 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 2023 PotLuck was attended by over 150 residents and included talks by the Mayor, the Fire Chief, a City Council Member, and PG&E.

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. 

Supporting Preparedness and Training

We work with residents and community groups 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 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 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. This grant funded 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 grant used by UC Berkeley to clean up the understory of two eucalyptus groves on its property, one below the end of Campus Drive and one 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 coordinate with other fire safety groups to advocate for risk mitigation programs and funding, including the California Fire Safe Council, CAL FIRE, the Oakland Fire Safe Council, Fire Safe El Cerrito, the West Contra Costa County Fire Safe Council, the Clarmont Canyon Conservancy and others.