This photo was taken on September 4, 2015 along Skyline Blvd, near the entrance to Redwood Regional Park. It shows several firefighters from the Oakland Fire Department who were called to the scene to cool a composting pile of debris from a recently felled and chipped pine tree that become so hot it had begun to let off steam. Spontaneous combustion of mulch piles can occur, and yet the “fire abatement” plan for the hills involves turning the remains of 400,000 trees into mulch and spreading that debris throughout the hills, debris that will begin to compost in direct sunlight when the shade created by the trees is eliminated. An Oakland firefighter admitted that because of this, the deforestation plan was reckless and dangerous and would increase the risk of fire. He also explained that while many Oakland firefighters are therefore opposed to the plan, their concerns have been ignored and dismissed by their bosses as the complaints of “disgruntled union employees.”
“An inordinate amount of the Plan is an attempt at land transformation disguised as a wildfire hazard mitigation plan. If it is implemented it will endanger firefighters and the general public; and it will be an outrageous waste of the taxpayer's money. The objectives of a land transformation plan are different than the objectives of a wildfire mitigation plan. The only way a land transformation plan can succeed in masquerading as a wildfire mitigation plan is if it treats important data needed to compose a sound wildfire mitigation plan in a superficial manner, or ignores such data or circulates misinformation. The Plan … omits important Fire Science principles, disseminates misinformation about selected fuels, and ignores data that would be contrary to its aim of land transformation.” - David Maloney, Oakland fire fighter (retired), Chief of Fire Prevention, Oakland Army Base (retired), Member Task Force on Emergency Preparedness & Community Restoration, 1991 Oakland Hills fire.
- To read his report in its entirety, click here.
The Scripps Ranch fire of 2003 burned 150 homes, but -- as can be seen in this NY Times photo -- not Eucalyptus trees abutting many of those homes. When Angel Island erupted in flames in 2008, it was the areas where the Eucalyptus were cut down that burned; burned to the very edge of the Eucalyptus forest, then stopped for lack of fuel: “At the edge of the burn belt lie strips of intact tree groves…a torched swath intercut with untouched forest.” A 1991 Oakland Firestorm survivor writes: "I was a student at Cal during the 1991 fires. I lived in the Berkeley hills above campus near Strawberry Canyon. The eucalyptus and other trees saved the houses on my street by serving as a barrier between us and the fire."
According to David Maloney, former Oakland firefighter and Chief of Fire Prevention at the Oakland Army base, "Fire Science has proven that every living tree -- regardless of its species -- due to its moisture content and canopy coverage of ground fuels, contributes to wildfire hazard mitigation."
In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey notes that only about 3% of fires occur in forests. The remainder -- 97% -- burn mostly in shrublands and grasslands (and urban areas), the exact environment in which the 1991 Firestorm ignited and which native plant ideologues want to recreate in the hills. Says Chief Maloney, “If it is implemented it will endanger firefighters and the general public; and it will be an outrageous waste of the taxpayer's money.” The stated aim of the deforestation effort is to replace the East Bay's Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine forests with shallow grasses, grasses that are highly susceptible to fire and which even the EBRPD has admitted on their website are "one of the most dangerous vegetation types for firefighter safety due to the rapid frontal spread of fire that can catch suppression personnel off guard."
Moreover, during the FEMA environmental review process, the U.S. Forest Service weighed in, objecting to the plan to remove all Eucalyptus trees. Doing so, they said, would “increase the probability of [fire] ignition over current conditions” because “removal of the overstory trees can introduce changes to the environment which increase fire behavior in undesirable ways.” How?
- Removal of the trees would lead to growth of highly flammable brush species: “the removal of the overstory, is likely to result in rapid establishment of native and non-native herbaceous and brush communities, bringing an increase in available surface fuels.”
- Increase in “available surface loads” would “result in increases in potential surface fire behavior” and thus, “a dramatic increase in fire hazard.” According to the U.S. Fire Administration Technical Report on the 1991 Fire noted that “brush fuel types played a significant role in the progression of the fire” and that brushland made up “a large portion of the available fuel.”
- Cutting down tall trees “does little to address the surface fuels which are typically the primary carrier of an advancing fire.”
- “Removal of the eucalyptus overstory would reduce the amount of shading on surface fuels, increase the wind speeds of the forest floor, reduce the relative humidity of the forest floor, increase the fuel temperature, and reduce fuel moisture.”
These factors would increase the probability of a fire starting and once started, the probability of the fire spreading faster and burning more intensely, the exact opposite of what we want to do. Doing so would would “result in a more severe range of fire behavior effects.”
Finally, a study published by the U.S. Forest Service, “Reducing the Wildland Fire Threat to Homes,” concludes that reducing the risk to homes from a wildfire does not involve clearcutting vast amount of trees. It shows that “home losses can be effectively reduced by focusing mitigation efforts on the structure [such as requiring a fireproof roof] and its immediate surroundings.” The study notes that “ignitions from flames occur over relatively short distances -- tens of meters not hundreds of meters.” If there are no trees within about 30 feet of a home, there is upwards of a 95% chance the home will not burn. At about 50 feet, there is virtually no chance. It goes on to conclude that cutting down trees not adjacent to homes does nothing to protect those homes: “Extensive wildland vegetation management does not effectively change home ignitability.”
And yet his plan does not focus on residences or their immediate surroundings, but rather our public lands and parks. For example, the FEMA EIS notes that the southern area of one of the parks to be targeted -- Anthony Chabot Regional Park -- is nowhere near structures: “184.108.40.206.2. There are no adjacent communities because the proposed and connected project areas are entirely surrounded by parkland.” Why is a plan which claims to be about reducing fire risk for East Bay homes targeting areas where no homes exist? The answer is simple: because the plan is not about wildfire reduction but about “ethnic cleansing” of our collectively owned forests to suit the nativist prejudices of the very few.
- Read an analysis by a Fire Chief on how the deforestation plan imperils the public by clicking here.
- Read our statement in opposition by clicking here.
- Read our rebuttal to the the misinformation by proponents by clicking here.
- Read FEMA's language for clearcutting in the Oakland and Berkeley hills by clicking here.
- Click here for what you can do.