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Joint effort will help prevent fires in the hills

Renewing the Foundations of Excellence

The 1991 Oakland Hills Firestorm burned areas of vegetation similar to that found on university properties in the hills east of campus. One of the most important lessons learned from the firestorm was that urban areas are highly vulnerable to the spread of spot fires originating in unmanaged neighboring wild land vegetation.

From early September to mid-October 2000, UC Berkeley, in consultation with EBMUD, East Bay Regional Parks District and the cities of Berkeley and Oakland, will work to lower the threat of significant property damage from wildfires by reducing neighboring density of woody materials. The project focuses on the Panoramic Hill area, at the interface between residents and university-managed wild lands.

The project covers a 30-acre area, comprised of mostly non-native conifers planted by the university in the 1920's and 30's for teaching and research. It has been identified as a high-risk priority area; the condition of the brush and trees in this area requires a higher level of treatment than that provided by the current annual low brush and grass clearing efforts by hand crews and goats. The project area contains approximately 2,400 trees. Approximately 840 are slated for removal, most of them non-native trees that are weak, diseased and dying.

This project will be completed in phases. Phase I, scheduled for this fall, will focus work on a 10-acre area close to the end of the Lower Jordan Fire Trail. As part of this project, disturbed soils will be seeded with indigenous grasses and wildflowers. Additionally, chipped material will be spread to help prevent erosion. The contractor will donate wood removed to a non-profit organization for use as lumber and in artistic projects. The shaded fuel break will help provide defensible space for fire crews working along the ridge between Strawberry and Claremont Canyons. Most importantly, it will reduce the threat of burning embers being cast into the Oakland/Berkeley neighborhoods. Tree pruning will reduce the threat of any fire spreading by way of treetops.

Crews will cut trees into lengths of 24 feet or less. Small material will be chipped. Unhealthy pines will be disposed of locally so as not to spread pitch canker to the Sierra Nevada.

This fire abatement project is funded in part by a matching funds grant for Hazard Mitigation awarded to the University of California by the State of California Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Phases II and III are scheduled for spring 2001.

Work on Phase I is scheduled to begin in the first week of September and to be complete by mid-October. Crews are scheduled to work in the hill area from Monday to Friday, starting no earlier than 8 a.m. and ending by 5 p.m. Hauling will occur between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to avoid peak traffic hours.

For project information, phone 643-5028.

Renewing the Foundations of Excellence home

Source: Berkeleyan Special Issue, Fall 2000