Red Flag Warning up, UC Berkeley identifies risk

April 30, 2013 7:57:51 PM PDT
A red flag warning is in effect for the East Bay hills. It started at 6 p.m. on Tuesday and will continue until 6 p.m. Wednesday. Homeowners and firefighters are watching conditions very closely.

There is a heightened level of awareness and concern.

Fire prevention is something in the East Bay both officials and homeowners have to take seriously. Even with this being the first red flag warning of the year, it is something they prepare for year-round.

The barbeque suspension signs have gone up in El Cerrito parks. It's just one way the city is responding to the red flag warning. There will be a high fire danger through Wednesday.

"During the daytime or during the heightened period of danger, we also up-staff our engines. We'll add an extra person to the engines up here in the hills to give us additional personnel for taking care of any fire," said El Cerrito Fire Batt. Chief Michael Pigoni.

Pigoni says the winds should be highest at around 10 a.m. on Wednesday and its wind he's most worried about, for this first red-flag warning of the year.

"It is early, but wind is typically plays the part. If we get a fire going, if it has a wind behind it, that is what makes it most challenging," said Pigoni.

Wind and eucalyptus trees played a major role in the catastrophic 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. That got the attention of U.C. Berkeley, which realized it had thousands on its wildlands east of campus. The hills in this region were bare and grassy when the university was founded in 1874. Eucalyptus planted as a commercial crop at about the same time took over, becoming a fire hazard.

"This is a very high fire severity species. It puts out an oil, a terpene-type oil, that pre-heats in the event of a flame front and it causes to outgas. You can get explosiveness in eucalyptus groves," said Tom Klatt, the U.C. Berkeley environmental projects manager.

The school has gotten rid of 9,000 trees, replacing them with native plants that burn less aggressively, but it still has 350 acres to go.

Klatt showed us part one of a three-volume environmental impact report for a FEMA fire mitigation grant to help with that work.

"FEMA finds it is much more cost effective to mitigate and prevent a disaster than it does reconstructing a community after a disaster," said Klatt.

U.C. Berkeley has just released its environmental impact report for public comment and if FEMA approves their disaster mitigation grant, U.C. Berkeley believes the earliest that tree removal would begin is 2014.


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