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San Leandro Wildfires: How Can We Reduce Our Risk?

This is part 2 in our series about wildfires and how San Leandro might adapt. Read part 1 here.

Wildfires have become a fact of life in California, and most of us feel they are our most pressing climate risk—as was shown in our community outreach surveys this past year. The big question is: What can we do?

The biggest wildfire risk for San Leandro residents is Chabot Park with its increasingly dry vegetation and dead trees that act as fuel. We have had a series of drought years that have killed thousands of trees in the park, exacerbating fire danger in an already dangerously dry park. Among the various strategies to reduce wildfire danger, tree thinning, vegetation removal and home hardening are some of the most effective and least controversial. Others, such as prohibiting development, moving people out of fire-prone areas, and requiring fire insurance are also effective, but politically too contentious, at least in the short term.

Our best defense: Thinning trees and removing vegetation.

Chabot Park has seen a dramatic loss of eucalyptus trees, especially in densely planted populations. These trees are part of 1,000 acres of sudden tree die-off throughout East Bay parks, first noticed in October 2020. Caused by climate change driven drought, this sudden tree dieback has increased wildfire risk as dead trees burn hotter and faster and are more likely to cast embers downwind. Removing these trees and other fire-prone vegetation is expensive. The East Bay Parks District has applied for funding from the State and Federal Government for expert evaluation of the affected trees and for increased staffing, but has only received $10M toward the $30M needed to address the problem.. It is a good start to the mitigation effort, but it will take more. We must let our park district and State Senator know that we need more funding to complete the removal. This will not only reduce wildfire risk but also improve the health of the remaining trees that will have more water and resources available.

Tree Die Off in Chabot Park

Home Hardening can create safer homes

It is possible to make a home very wildfire resistant or even fireproof. Some things are quite simple and low cost, others expensive. Most homes burn because of embers that travel long distances from a wildfire and land on a combustible surface such as vents in your attic or basement, or exposed wood. We have a lot of knowledge about how to build fireproof homes and to retrofit existing structures. There are simple low cost upgrades (PDF download) that most homeowners can do themselves, and more costly and extensive measures (PDF download) that may require professionals to implement.

It is important to remember that the effect of climate change on wildfire risk isn’t linear, but exponential. On the one hand this means that- even aggressive action to combat warming may show only slow effects. But it also means that no aggressive climate action will mean far worse wildfires in the future.

Experts agree that the first step in addressing wildfires is to acknowledge that they are inevitable and to learn how to live with them. Then we must use the knowledge we have to engineer homes and communities to be more survivable. Let’s get to work!

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