In preparation for California’s upcoming fire season, the city of Berkeley is ramping up tree removal and other wildfire safety efforts.
According to Berkeley City Councilmember Susan Wengraf, Berkeley started the Fire Fuel Tree Reduction program, or FFTR, in June 2019. The program removes and prunes trees and aims to reduce any vegetation that provides fuel for a potential wildfire.
“With an ever growing risk of wildfires it is crucial we act to clear brush and kindling away from homes in our most at risk neighborhoods,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn in an email. “Though removing trees is never ideal, some must be taken down to ensure safety, especially invasive species which create bigger hazards.”
The city’s FFTR program has resulted in 294 trees being removed and 41 more being pruned since its inception, costing more than $656,000. Wengraf added that city staff are actively working to bid for the removal of another 40 trees.
While the city parks department is responsible for all tree management on city-owned land, Wengraf noted that Berkeley residents are responsible for their own property.
Law requires residents in designated fire zones to create at least 30 feet of defensible space, or the buffer between a building on a property and any combustible items or vegetation that surrounds it, around structures. According to the Cal Fire website, defensible space reduces the spread of fire and assists firefighters in defending the area.
“Berkeley residents need to limb up their tree branches to 10 feet above ground and clear any branches that are overhanging structures,” Wengraf said in an email. “If residents have Eucalyptus trees on their property, they should seriously consider removing them.”
Cal Fire has classified the Berkeley Hills as an “extremely high hazard” wildfire area, and the city conducts vegetation management inspections in the hills, according to the city website. According to a Berkeleyside article, the city plans to inspect 8,600 properties annually, and has already looked at about 6,600 properties this year, up from about 1,200 inspected in 2021.
Wengraf emphasized the importance of both creating defensible space and the city’s “critical” fire safety efforts, and encouraged everyone to start taking steps toward creating a safer community.
“Creating a firesafe community involves a partnership between the residents, our institutional neighbors, like UC, LBNL, East Bay Regional Parks and the City of Berkeley,” Wengraf said in an email. “There is a lot of work that needs to get done and I hope that everyone will do their fair share.”