The Berkeley Fire Department, or BFD, launched a public outreach and education campaign May 1, with the goal of educating Berkeley residents about wildfire safety and prevention.
BFD is asking for volunteers to become community ambassadors to interact with and collect data from residents in the “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone,” or VHFHSZ, according to a newsletter from Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson.
“The overall goal of the FireSafe Berkeley Program for 2023 is to have every home in (the) Berkeley Hills pass inspection by the end of the year,” said Interim Deputy Fire Chief Keith May in an email. “These marketing objectives support the program goal and achieving these goals will also set up the program for future success and expansion in later years.”
The ambassadors are tasked with going door to door, providing information to residents and collecting data on the specific household’s needs in terms of efforts to increase wildfire safety, according to Robinson’s letter.
Ambassadors will take note of residents’ questions and concerns, along with the data they collect, and plan to report their findings to the council in the fall, according to Robinson’s letter.
“Our topography, winds, and adjacent wildland areas put our city at constant risk,” Robinson said in an email. “That risk is magnified by our concentration of dense older housing, abundant vegetation right next to homes, and narrow roads.”
Robinson said BFD launched this program to both protect the community from the risks of wildfire and to create preventative measures to protect homes in the event of a wildfire.
Robinson noted two of these measures include home hardening, or making homes more resistant to fires, and defensible space, which entails creating a buffer to slow fire from reaching a home, according to BFD’s website.
BFD is planning to recruit and train the ambassadors through various community programs such as YouthWorks, Cal Athletics and the Community Emergency Response Team, according to Robinson’s letter.
May noted that, according to the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, there have been 14 wildfires in the Berkeley and Oakland Hills since 1923, which have destroyed 3,500 structures and effectively burned 9,000 acres of land.
Robinson emphasized the importance of educating community members on wildfire safety given the city’s history with fire.
“Berkeley has burned twice in the last century,” Robinson said. “Once, in 1923, in a fire that burned down the north side of the city, and again in the 1991 Tunnel Fire that took more than twenty lives in the hills between Berkeley and Oakland.”