This is about a meeting in Berkeley California, and mostly intended for my neighbors, but certainly there’s lots of good fire information for everyone in here.
July 12, 2018. City council person for our district Susan Wengraf organized a fire safety meeting at the Northbrae church.
The council person from district 8 which got the brunt of the 1998 wildfire was
there, and Sophie Hahn. Lots of officials there and half a dozen people from PG&E,
many more than last year.
They have a one-page household evacuation plan to put on your ‘fridge. See
Does our hydrant have a blue reflector is it visible, and is it unobstructed
by vegetation? If not, call public works. They depend on us to tell them.
There is a meeting about undergrounding on September 27. Woodhaven Rd. is all
undergrounded so this doesn’t effect us. Wengraf will send an announcement.
There is a pilot program for solar lighting the Berkeley paths. This doesn’t
include Woodmont (which is actually a city street due to a legal precedent).
Wengraf says the purpose of this meeting is to get you to do something about your
property. And “the whole state is on fire and it’s only July”.
The Firescaping program was by Jennifer de Graaf, PLA (professional landscape
architect), LEED AP (leadership in energy and environmental design, accredited
professional), BFQP & Rater (bay-friendly qualified professional); QWEL (qualified
water efficient landscape [professional]).
Her email is [email protected]
Jennifer is an expert of fire-safe ‘scaping.
Studying this has put her in contact with people who study how far sparks go.
She asked the fire fighters and engineers, people who studied this formally, to
keep her talk honest.
7 principles for making a landscaping decision (photo)
Fire-safe is a term she doesn’t like. Fire is not a safe thing and having it
doesn’t make you safe.
We have a Medditeranian growing season that’s really long, and then we irrigate
to make it even longer.
The cycles of fire and drought are getting more severe. There is no fire season.
Fire doesn’t take December off.
Think about where you live and how do you see in your own home and garden:
how do you get off that property, where are the higher risks coming to that
location, where are your ways out?
On her property there is fence all the way around and thus no way to get out.
Her exits are toward the higher risks. Uphill is the same direction as the fire
and it might chase her if she exits in that direction.
Before you “do anything crazy” (landscape) check your permitting process. Make
sure you go local, and who you need to talk to to make any changes.
She showed an aerial photo of a home and garden unburned within a burned field.
She says that’s a fluke, and fire doesn’t respect your boundaries.
Firescaping isn’t a style (photo)
Understand where greater risks come from, where other risks come from, take care
of your soil and have healthy soil. Healthy plants are more resistant than
unhappy plants. Stressed plants are more dangerous.
Also important: Garden hygine. Proper pruning. Proper shearing gives you different
conditions during a fire.
Ignition sources (photo)
These risks aren’t always things you can control, sometimes they come from outside. Like a house fire, a car fire, a cigarette cast from a car window.
Fire’s Passions (photo)
Fire loves to go up. It runs faster than you. Where is the wind usually coming
from? If the wind always goes one direction, quite possibly a fire will go in
Fire likes to climb up trees, ladders, up, up up.
Fire does odd things she can’t explain.
Save me (photo)
Idyllic roads can be fine for 100 years and then can be too dangerous to go down
in a fire.
Do you have the potential to be a trap, and do you have a way out that can
Firefighters have to make decisions on what they can safely defend, and what they
Defensible space 3Rs (photo)
Reduce fire incentives. City of San Rafael is giving incentives to remove bamboo
and juniper because they catch sparks and are thus fire magnets.
Irrigation – turning off the water can create a lot of deadwood. Don’t shut it
off in a drought and stress all of the plants.
The idea is that closer to the house you want to slow down the fire.
Zone 1 out to 30 feet.
Tall wood fences are not so great. They are all sorts of firewood and sparks stop
there they can’t escape through them.
Her advice is to take your privacy inside and use window treatements.
Select low-flamability plants.
City officials can tell you about roof systems and windows that are fire
Practice good garden hygine.
0 to 5 feet from the house they like paving.
A fire can get three times the height of what it’s burning
When you get a new plant consider how big it is, and where it is, because a small
plant can create a flame 3x its height.
Fire ladders (photo)
The dead fingery twigs at the bottom of the tree will be fire ladders, taking
the fire up the tree.
Pine trees can hold a flame for a good long time because they have lots of fuel.
Any plant will burn. They all will. They need to lose the moisture, and then they
will burn. A hot or windy day will do it. Wind can dry a plant faster than heat.
Basic safety design (photo)
Have highly visible address.
Don’t block fire fighter access even temporarily, and she was talking about making
a pile of cuttings around her house. Clean it up before you’re tired and then go
Reconsider that solid fencing.
Is there one way out? 2 ways out? Can you jump the fence.
Check your sheds and under deck for problems, not just the house.
In front of the house in the photo, you would have to go over blue agave to exit
if the tiny path was not blocked.
Use fences that are not so combustible. Something with holes that a spark could go
through. Let critters a way out (depending on circumstance). Thicker posts. Gates!
A thicker post is harder to ignite than a thinner post.
Gates are all well and good, but what about a gate between your property and your
Between neighbors (photo)
Don’t plant trees that overhang your neighbor’s eve.
Share what you learn.
Non-solid wood fences (photo)
Avoid obvious conflicts like keeping a barbecue under the eve, keeping bbq near
flamable materials, storing flamable materials under decks or eves.
You can stucco the underside of your deck! A spark hitting that won’t set it on
Non-wood decking. Artificial woods can get brittle in a fire even if they don’t
burn and may not be safe to walk on afterward.
Don’t fence below your deck!
All plants burn, period. (photo)
If there’s a fire nearby and you have under a minute for your plants to catch
fire, that’s not enough time.
In the photo, the palm was not ignited by a ground fire but a spark.
Keep your plants clean, especially palm tree fronds. Leafy parts that are super
dry and brittle.
Plants with smaller fuels might burn out.
Plants with more surface area can catch a spark and let the fire get around.
Non-resinous plants with watery sap are less flamable than resinous with
gummy sap. But it depends on how it’s
Thick leaves less than thin leaves.
Slowing growing is denser and may take longer to ignite, but may hold a flame
longer once it does.
Leaf litter is a fire hazard.
Fragrance-free foliage is less flamable than ones with fragrant oils.
Hairy leaves hold sparks better.
Considering water (photo)
Drought tolerance and fire resistance are not related!
The amount of heat needed to ignite a plant is directly related to the moisture
content in the plant. Succulents look good, but only if you maintain them. Clear
away the crispy little leaves.
Hydrangias just wilt if it gets hot enough.
Too much irrigation can make plants drown.
No gorilla hair mulch! Doesn’t do as good a job at slope retention as compost.
Chunkier chips of muclch may ignite less quickly but hold a smolder longer.
Flame retardant applications can wear off, and buy 10 minutes only.
Rubber mulch – don’t go there. Incredibly hot sticky fire.
Landscape maintenance photo
Don’t till or compact soil. Water properly.
Don’t shear – stressful, makes for fine dense growth. Prune instead.
Pruned plants have less to catch a spark.
Keep things alive and well hydrated, avoid deficit watering. Keep it happy and
healthy, not just alive. Have proper healthy soil.
For trees, it’s deep infrequent watering.
Get safe, get out! Use the evacuation plan. A fire near your house is one at
your house in just a minute. Don’t make the firemen stop fighting the fire to
Get the guidlines book (free).
Maintained for a lifetime (photo)
Second presentation from fire chief Dave Brannagan on evacuation plans.
He really liked the first presentation.
Wildfire safety is always a concern in California and rears its head
in Berkeley every 20-25 years.
They have already deployed more mutual aid this year than ever before.
Response assumptions (photo)
The 1923 Berkeley hills fire spread from Lake Anza to Shattuck Ave.
Fire blew down the hill rapidly in the santa ana winds.
Berkeley FD has 7 fire engines, one house fire takes most of that. A second
alarm fire uses every apparatus.
In a big fire they will not be putting the wet stuff on the red stuff, they will
be telling people to evacuate.
The tubbs fire spread from Napa to Santa Rosa in under an hour. The winds were
blowing embers three to four miles in front of the fire.
Coffey park was 4 miles from the fire front, and it jumped that far.
The embers were like being in a shower of sparks. A shower of sparks will light
your plants on fire.
You need to be prepared to evacuate. The fire spread is unpredictable. Know two
routes out of your property and off of the hillside.
Their priority in a big fire is lifesaving.
They will be in very low visibility, if they get there early enough,
as with Ajax, they will stop the fire, but if not they will get right
If you are thinking about driving, you may only have one way out. Think of paths
too. The way the city was built, cars should not be the only way out. They refer
to Berkeley streets as Spaghetti streets.
Evacuation zones (photo)
We have a good evacuation plan. They brought it home from Cal OES in the Lake fire.
They are working to identify smaller zones and tell you about them.
Worst comes to worse, Cross the bridge.
One of the things that happened in the North Bay was that people were not
notified. When they were delivered, people weren’t there to receive them.
They are not using sirens for warning yet. The city council gave them 81
things to look at.
AC alert. Do they ever do a drill? How can we tell our phones will work if they
don’t? My phone has a screener. They told me what number they call from, but I’m
not sure that’s right without any opportunity to screen it.
Not final map (photo)
They thought about naming the zones but there are 100, so they will leave them as
What responders need from you (slide)
GO! Please go when you see problems. If you need extra help, go as soon as there’s
a hint. Make it possible to evacuate OUT OF YOUR CAR. You have to get out of your
car, people died in the Oakland Hills fire because they waited for their car to
You need to be ready to receive emergency alerts. Sign up for them.
Sign up for both Nixle and AC Alert. They send different stuff sometimes.
Text your zip code to 888777 and it signs you up to Nixle.
Preparedness Steps Continued (slide)
They emphasize emergency planning for pets, children, people with functional needs.
Household fire evacuation plan (slide)
What would you wear for a shower of sparks? Plan that. Do you have a go-bag in
your car? Have one. If there is medicine you need get more from your doctor to
put in your bag.
Fire cheef from EB Regional Parks Aline Theile
Wildfire Prevention in the East Bay Hills (photo)
When you get an evacuation order and you don’t go, what you do to the firefighters
is you make the focus you, and not your home. All they will care about is getting
In the East Bay fire, a lot of people asked “why didn’t you work on putting the
fire out”. It went too fast and they were too busy getting the people out.
They decided that they needed to be ahead of the game, and have a wildfire fuel
Because they are the park district they need to focus on the plants while realizing
other goals. They are a park and can’t just remove the plants. They also need to
make their plan cost-effective).
In 1899 there were a lot fewer trees and the land was grazed. The trees were
Eucalyptus Plantation ( photo)
Wildfire hazard reduction (photo)
They focus on follow-up and long-term maintenance. You can’t just thin a eucalyptus
forest and walk away, it just grows back stronger and faster.
The line is the ridgeline (also the fault)
Slide of partners (photo)
It’s not just that BFD and EBRPD do their part. Homeowners, all of us need to do
RTA means recommended treatement area.
Grazing is a maintenance method.
Fire hazard reduction crews are sometimes firefighters.
Mechanical means (photo)
Prescribed Fire (photo)
They are coming back to prescribed fire, even though it scares folks. It can really
help you down the road. It puts nitrates back in the soil.
Redwood, Eastridge trail (photo)
It’s easier for firefighters to fight fires on the ground. So eliminate fire
It is not the flame front that starts houses on fire. It is the embers that are
cast. They want to keep the fire out of the crown of trees because it can go much
farther from there.
Tilden before and after RTA T1004 before and after.
They create spacing – sometimes 20 feet or more – and try to maintain it.
Tilden T1004 (photo)
They brought the goats in and that was the main thing they did.
Firefighters can’t get through that, you need a bulldozer.
Aerial photo, and the next one is the before picture (2 photos)
Funding sources (photo)
Matt Hender, director of enhanced vegetation management.
Across whole service territory.
Know your overhead lines (photo, too small to read)
Transmission lines are the large lines that go from substation to substation,
60,000 volts to 500K volts.
Wooden pole. Most voltage on the very top, and decreases as you come down.
The top one is the primary distribution wire. That’s the wire they don’t
want a tree to touch.
4000, 12000, 21000 volts. Always above the transformer, above the yellow high
The second level is a much lower voltage and trees can touch it, it’s not a big
Service drops come out of the transformers and go into the weather head. Trees can
touch that, no risk.
Underneath your secondary lines you have phone and cable. Look at where it attaches
to the pole. If it is just pinned on instead of attaching to a cross arm, it’s
not something that belings to PGE. Trees can touch it.
Community wildfire action program (photo)
We are taking action (photo)
Set up a 24/7 wildfire management center, and remote weather stations.
They will be turning off the reclosing function in some areas. Power will no
longer go on after a blink. The consequence will be longer outages.
They are working on protocols to proactively turn off power to reduce wildfire
risk. If weather conditions warrant, they will turn the power off to eliminate
the possibility of a spark starting from their lines.
They are replacing wood poles with non-wood poles.
Berkeley fire map (photo) Looks like we’re in Tier 2, because of undergrounding.
CPUC has this information in PDF and other forms.
pge.com/wildfiresafety will tell you what tier you are in.
Public safety power shutoff (photo)
If you are in a hazardous area they will turn the power off if necesary.
They do this in several steps, working with fire depts, informing people, outbound
phone calls, texts, and then they may shut it off.
They will notify repeatedly.
They will inspect lines before they turn the power back on.
Get on PGE.com/wildfiresafety now and make sure they have the right contact
information for you.
Be prepared for power shutoff 1-2 times during peak of fire season.
Be prepared for it to be out for at least 24 hours.
In extreme conditions, could last for 2-5 days.
Notifications will be 1 hour to 48 hours in advance depending on conditions.
Will be reaching out to medical baseline customers. Call them and ask if you are
on the medical baseline list, get on it and they will directly outreach to you
before the power goes out.
They are expanding the clearance between their lines and vegetation.
The PGE contact center has the same information, you can call them, or it’s on
the web site.
Q and A
If I have received notice that my power is out, can I assume it’s OK for me to
cross a downed power line? It is never safe to cross a downed power line even
if you see lights are out. Treat it as if it’s live and give it a lot of
clearance. It is never safe to touch or cross it.
How many different languages will Nixle and AC Alert be sent in.
People will be scared and shocked, those who speak English as a second language
may not understand instructions. At the moment English is the only language they
have and they recognize it as a deficit in the system.
What is the status regarding eucalyptus removal in public hill lands?
EBRPD if it’s within an RTA that calls for the removal of eucalyptus. But rarely
do they call for removal of all eucalyptus. The city parks and open space
have eucalyptus and pines. An area by Ajax is having dangerous trees removed.
They are combining resources with parks to remove some particularly bad ones.
Is ivy flammable. Yes. All plants are flammable. Ivy starts as a vine and goes up
until it thinks it’s at the top and then gets shrubby. If you cut the base you have
a bunch of foliage high in the tree that’s dead. A lot of it depends on how it’s
been allowed to grow and how it’s maintained. If you whack it, it comes back.
Is the evacuation destination up to each household? The message may come through
to just go. As a practice, try not to predesignate a destination before an
emergency. There are too many different disasters to know where you are going to
be most safe in advance – not just fire but tsunami, etc. They will try to direct
to evacuation centers as a disaster plays out, using their partners (out of area).
Is the city planning to repeat the fire inspections of homes? How can we get
individual asessments? Will the fire department come speak to neighborhood groups.
After the hill fire they had a special asessment.
Prop 238 (?) made that tax measure impossible and all of those people were laid
off. They have 3 fire inspectors for the city and everything today is complaint
driven. They are happy to come out and do neighborhood groups.
Call 311 and they will connect you to FD for non-emergency stuff.
Haywired earthquake scenario – how downed power lines prevent evacuation access.
There is information on the web about haywire and they will plan for that, but
that is a different context than wildfire.
How far can a cast ember still be live? There were rumors after the oakland tunnel
fire (a north wind event) that they were landing in San Francisco.
It depends on the embed source. 3-5 miles, some people say as far as 7.
What about undergrounding wires? PGE is investigating how to do it as cost
effectively as possible and how to do it from a risk perspective. There is a CPUC
rule 20 which is an old rule not related to wildfire risk. Eveyrone is revisiting
how to approach undergrounding. It is not a short-term solution at scale.
Are the wooden electric poles highly flammable? Everything burns. Wood pole burns. If a wildfire is coming they can pretreat a pole with fire retardant, but if the
fire is hot enough it burns like trees.
Elaborate on the distinction from electrical ignition vs. when a tree falls on
lines vs. what happens when a pole burns? There are some things about electric
assets that can create a spark on their own. They are looking to create a
relatively low fuel zone around their assets.
Trees or limbs falling onto or touching the line are the biggest risks.
They are doing different things to mitigate each of those angles.
What is being done to improve evacuation and fire truck access by dealing with
fire truck choke points. Very contriversial because everybody wants the space in
front of their house, whether it is a choke point or not. Public works will
identify choke points and red-stripe them. Empty out your garages and park in
your garages. Hopefully in the remainder of Wengraf’s tenure we will see the
choke points marked. The standard is 14 feet and they need more where there is
a curve. They once made a map of all the points in the hills that needed to be
red-zoned and there was no way to do it.
What can I do to get a neighbor to remove dead trees from their property?
Book called Neighbor Law by Nolo Press. Call your city and ask if they can
The city will check once a year between Grizzly Peak and Tilden Park.
981-FIRE is the FD non-emergency number.
How can we get the city to come and trim or remove city-owned trees? Call 311.
How do we determine whether to evacuate by car or foot, should we try by car first?
14 feet gives us a foot and a half on either side of our fire engines. If you are
leaving while they come in, you will come to an impasse and they will triage.
Will you communicate through Nixle or AC Alert? Both?
Are bays and oaks sprouting under eucalyptus a threat to them? Anything that can
help a fire climb from low to high is ladder fuel.