California has shifted towards high severity and low frequency fires. What we used to know as 100-year fires are happing on an annual basis. In the last 5 years consecutively, CA has had its largest fires on record. 2018 was no exception with the most deadly and destructive fire in CA history with Paradise, CA Camp fire. Despite Governor Jerry Brown having signed an order to double treatment of fuel in forest and double land treated it is still not enough. Prescribed fire is likely the strongest option in most parts of the state but in the East Bay area it is complicated with the large population of “gasoline trees” as some fire fighters would call Tasmanian Blue Gum’s. Increased drought conditions and rapidly changing climate conditions are making fire management complex. Politics are slowly shifting to prioritize forest needs and a lot more needs to be done.
In the East Bay Hills the debate lives on and not much has been done to reduce the looming threat of the Eucalyptus groves that sit above Berkeley and Oaklands dense populations. Contention and litigation is tangled in a mess that has stymied many community organizations from moving forward on creating a safer landscape for those in the WUI’s. Some would claim “These trees are alive, and as such, they are sacred, they are our silent warriors against climate change” (Cal Alumni). Others do not deny the risk associated with the forests of the East Bay hills and the Eucalyptus trees. Another community member is quoted “Eucalyptus trees are not good sinks for carbon. They deplete the soil of carbon, which makes them the worst choice when it comes to sequestration in forests. Lop, scatter, and chip them on site, that will help put some of the carbon back in the soil. Native Bay/Oak forests are net carbon sinks, so the plan is actually a very good one in regard to carbon sequestration. Additionally, the native forest is less water hungry than the invasive trees, which will help to keep the moisture in the hills and lower the risk of fire” (Cal Alumni). Bay area communities are very vocal about the governments involvement and planned strategies for managing the fire hazards in the East Bay and so most Eucalyptus grove have been left untouched. Anybody can take a walk in the hills of Wildcat, Strawberry or Claremont Canyons and find massive accumulation of fuel sources piles up against Eucalyptus trees. This should be enough to spark action but it’s not. Many of the residents of the hills remember the 1991 fire and are very concerned about the current conditions of the surrounding forests while others ignore it, after all the trees provide the beauty around their properties that drew them to their respective neighborhoods. One thing that many fire professionals can agree on is that the East Bay Hills are ripe for a large fire 27 years after the last one ravaged the area.