New approaches to fighting California wildfires as the acres destroyed increases

Berkeley city officials announced what they call historic and dramatic increases in spending and local and regional approaches to fire safety.

California is still in the early stage of fire season, but given the severity of the drought, there are concerns more acreage could go up in flames.

Long before Berkeley was damaged by the 1991 Oakland Hills Firestorm, it lost more than 500 homes to a wildfire that made 4,000 people homeless 98 years ago. 

The city said Thursday that it is using $12 million, which was approved by voters, to adopt a whole array of efforts and programs that will ripple well beyond its borders. 

"Hiring new firefighters who will focus on wildfire safety planning, fuel mitigation, inspection programs, and public education, developing a wildfire fuel reduction plan, and developing a new outdoor warning system to warn our community when people need to evacuate," said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

SEE ALSO: California wildfires so far in 2021 greatly exceed 2020 levels

Just as important, a new effort to put wildfire mutual aid responses that are already operating on steroids.

"We need to work with our East Bay Regional Parks and other cities and other agencies to coordinate our response," said the mayor.

Stepped-up inspections and code enforcement will require more vigilance and action on the part of residents and businesses to manage vegetation on their properties.

"This action allows us to have more inspectors on the road, boots on the ground to be able to do those inspections and to enforce those codes," explained Berkeley Fire Department Chief Abraham Roman.

Individuals, businesses, and public agencies will have to step up the removal of huge numbers of dead trees from the previous drought and Sudden Oak Death. 

"The newly identified tree mortality is now covering over 1500 acres of the Park District. The tree mortality is not just occurring on parklands, but it's throughout the region," said East Bay Regional Parks District Fire Chief Aileen Theile. Steve Chaney of the Panoramic Hills Association added the dead trees "become a new source of ignition and a threat to our forests and our communities."

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"Wildfire does not recognize jurisdictional boundaries. And the key to our success is that every resident in our community does their share to keep their property clean, harden their homes, and keep their cars off of our narrow and curvy streets," said Berkeley City Councilmember Susan Wengraf.

By July 4th of this year, 4600 fires have consumed 115 square miles. In last year's all-time record year, up to this point, 3,847 fires blackened almost 49 square miles in California. This is not even close to the worst months, August through October.