Heat conditions fuel Bay Area grassfires


If you take a drive through the Bay Area you'll see plenty of parched hillsides and dried out weeds. The dry weeds are what have fueled many of the spot fires that occurred this weekend.

The latest wildfire happened Monday morning. Fire teams quickly scrambled to contain a blaze that burned three acres on the north face of San Bruno Mountain.

"Cal Fire had a hand crew working on the other side of town on some vegetation removal, so that certainly helped the process in getting some resources over here," said Matt Lucett from the North County Fire Authority.

This weekend alone, we've seen several fires including one in the Oakland Hills on Friday that moved quickly because of dried out vegetation and strong winds. However, in certain situations one Berkeley researcher says clearing and burning more mountain fuels could actually help.

"I'm convinced that if we don't have more or fire surrogates on the ground, in a place called California with a Mediterranean summers, inevitably we're going to have the fires that we'll always be chasing," said Scott Stephens, Ph.D., from UC Berkeley.

According to his findings, more prescribed burns across the state would help clear out dried ground level vegetation, which could starve future fires from getting dangerously out of hand.

"Trying to do fuels treatments at larger scale in California is really important. So we can do the mechanical thinning, we can do the burnings, we can do the combinations thereof," said Stephens.

The bench march wildfire disaster in the Bay Area was the Oakland Hills blaze of 1991, when thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed and 25 people died. Since then new strategies have been adopted, including repeated warnings for residents about fire dangers in hot, windy and dry conditions. Those strategies have helped, despite what seems like a recent outburst.

"Today, even though we think big fires are running everywhere, turns out, when you compare it to historical numbers, man is it small," said Stephens.

A lot of the mitigation strategies Stephens mentioned have been adopted by some of the mountain communities in the Bay Area, including the Oakland Hills. In fact, Oakland firefighters grade residents every single year and tell them what they should clear our around their homes to make sure that they are safe.

And just to be clear, Stephens recommends prescribed burns only for remote areas. He's not recommending that they take place in heavily populated areas.

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