CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, Calif. - In the last year, a combination of environmental factors has combined to create a new super fire threat, according to the East Bay Regional Parks District: Sudden Tree Die-Off.
It evolved from the warming climate, water starvation, insect infestations, disease and other factors; a whole new level of threat.
Dead standing trees burn hotter and faster than living trees. The Park District says there are 1,500 acres of tree die-off in parks. "It's a regional issue. It's happening, all the way, we think, from Northern California down to Southern California then out to the coast," said Park District Fire Chief Aileen Theile.
When ignited, dead and dying trees cast embers well beyond the original fire; overflying fire lines, fire crews and fire breaks and fire roads. "Which then can ignite neighborhoods, it can ignite more areas, so it causes hotter, much faster wildfires," said California Deputy Forest Manager Jessica Morse. It is a massive die off.
"In the Sierra, we had 169 million trees die and we are seeing those exacerbate extreme fire behavior and extreme fire conditions," said Morse.
Ultimately the dead and dying trees must be removed soon. While that goes on, cleaning up forest under brush and ground vegetation helps a lot. "So if there was a fire, that fire could no longer get from the ground surface fuels up into the tree canopy," said vegetation management crew member Matthew Weasp.
Thinning forests out actually promotes better tree-fire resistance.
The Park District showed us an un-thinned eucalyptus grove which is an extreme fire hazard. Right next to it, another thinned out grove is not. With funding approved, the state is on track to thin the most fire prone forests at the rate of a million acres a year.
Much of this will be done with local partners such as the Eastbay Regional Parks District; people who know their trees. It is a multi-generational effort. "We want to insure that we are making smart investments that are not only protecting the community today, but that a hundred years from now, that we've set up a wildfire resilient ecology for future generations as well," said Deputy Forest Manager Morse.
That is called vision beyond ourselves.