Prescribed burns and brush clearing in full swing

Prescribed burns or controlled burns are an important weapon in the fight against wildfires. They are controlled fires that burn vegetation in at-risk areas to try to prevent catastrophic destruction, but experts say this tool is not being used enough. 

Though it's getting late in the season, folks near Salinas saw the evidence of a scary, but much-needed, pre-planned, controlled burn to rid a high fire prone area of grass, brush and debris that could promote a destructive runaway wildfire.

"What we're looking at doing statewide is increasing when possible; the areas that we do burns, I believe this last year we've done approximately 15,000 to 20,000 acres of burns. The bulk of that are occurring on private lands," said Cal Fire Deputy Chief for Fire Planning Scott Witt.

Experts say much more of this is needed.

"I'd put the number at maybe 40,000 acres total, so a tiny area frankly. So, now we're trying to come up to the people and say maybe 250,000 to 200,000 acres trying maybe to go in California maybe in the next 5 years," said UC Berkeley Fire Scientist and Professor Scott Stevens.

Orinda's Wildcat Canyon Road was closed most of the day, as it will be each day this week, to clear as much brush as possible from under big trees. This low-lying stuff is called ladder vegetation that can allow fire to reach the crowns of big trees, the key way major wild land fires get started. Finally, the state has provided major funding for this.

"$200 million year right now are actually available for forest restoration and prescribed fire. Those kinds of numbers never existed in California," said Professor Stevens.

On Monday afternoon, about three dozen people from 13 countries involved in international disaster management came to see what California is doing in fire wildfire disaster mitigation.

"We are basically showing them incident command systems as well as the National Incident Management System, so we are basically showcasing the U.S.  system of disaster response." said Nickolai Stoehr of the U.S. Forest Service's International Program. This comes at a time when both massive brush clearing projects and prescribed burns are being ramped up tremendously to avoid repeats of previous epic fire storms."

Just with the mega fires we've been having; all the various fires of the last few years we have to and we have to do fuel mitigation work and create these fuel breaks so fir e suppression personal have a chance and so do the citizens to get out alive," said Moraga-Orinda Fire Fuel Break Manager Jim Call.

To compare, Florida control burns more than a million acres a year which has seriously reduced the number of run away fire there.