Controlled burns in East Bay part of California's wildfire abatement project

Some East Bay folks saw smoke on the top of a nearby wildland and breathed a sigh of relief knowing that it was done to protect them.

KTVU was allowed to watch the project in progress and also spent time monitoring the progress of 35 major high-risk wildfire abatement projects going on state wide for the last eight months.

Joint fire agencies used the cool, slightly windy day to do a prescribed, controlled burn in the Painted Rocks section of the John Muir Land Trust near Rheem, Moraga and Orinda.

"Today is training. So, we're not only honing our own skills, but we're getting our residents used to seeing a little bit of smoke in the air, rather than a lot," said Dennis Rein of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District.

The idea of rarely, if ever doing prescribed burns, has become unworkable and unsafe in our new era of wildfires. "Controlled burns are actually a resource management tool that has been used by native California Americans past time and now that California is coming around to the idea of prescribed burns, they are actually very helpful for wildlife habitat and also for reducing fuel load for anyone like neighbors. And actually creates better habitat for plants that need wildfire to propagate," said Denise Amador a steward of the John Muir Land Trust.

Everyone should expect to see a lot more of these patchwork prescribed burns. The reason is very simple, a little patch here, a little patch there, it all ads up and it ultimately prevents the big event: the uncontrolled wildfire.

"It's natural for California. And, when we control it, it's better because now we're so urban, we really need to put  breaks in fires," said Ms. Amador.

Back in March, the Governor designated provided $35 million for 35 high priority fire prevention projects in high risk areas, mostly in Northern California, to be done within a year.

Cal Fire said, as of today, six of the wildfire abatement projects, are fully competed, including the 17-mile long North Orinda Shaded Fuel Break.

By New Year's Eve, 27 more projects will be complete. The final two will be done before next year's peak fire season.

"We've come to the point where more fire engines is a good thing, but also doing some other things like fuel management, hardening homes, addressing consequences of evacuation and getting people more used to that. Those are all good things, so, there's really not one solution to the problem. We need to be doing a whole bunch of things," said the Fire District's Rein.

On Friday, these agencies plan another 12-acre burn on the east side of San Pablo Reservoir.