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What to know as California's peak fire months loom

Original post made on Sep 2, 2019

Having just endured more than a decade of rampaging fires -- 14 of the 20 most destructive fires in state history have occurred since 2007 -- fire bosses say this year the glass is half-full.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, September 2, 2019, 8:46 AM

Comments (14)

5 people like this
Posted by Been There
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2019 at 10:21 am

Oakland is perhaps not the best example, because like Hurricane Katrina, the manmade stupidity and failure to apply any reasonable safety concerns to planning played a greater role in losses than the natural disaster itself.

Postfire analysis in Oakland highlighted the problem that Oakland fire hydrants all had a different sized hose fitting than all the surrounding communities. It was no accident that far more homes burned in Oakland than in Berkeley, because mutual aid was parked all along Hwy 13 and 24 unable to do anything on the Oakland side. A firefighter neighbor who was home that day expressed the belief that a one-inch hose in the many hours no one could fight the fire could have saved the entire neighborhood. The problems came about because people said "we can always do this difficult task upon which preventing a major disaster hinges [in this case, passing out adaptors to mutual aid in a city as large as Oakland with that kind of terrain and a history of fires]"

4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 2, 2019 at 10:39 am

No matter what are your politics, California's rainy season is starting much later in the year now days. I can remember when rain storms happened every year during October and the Tahoe ski resorts usually opened by Thanksgiving with natural snow. Now days, we're lucky to get anything before the New Year. Homeowners need to prepare for the extended dry season. We can't plan the same way that our parents did because our climate is different.

8 people like this
Posted by Been There
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2019 at 11:05 am

Palo Altans: because of the density of our building (and I don't just mean now, I mean from decades ago), our proximity to fire-prone areas like LAH and Stanford foothills, individuals can take steps now to prevent the next Coffee Park:

Number one most important thing:
*If you have a shake roof, replace it with a fire-safe roof. Just do it. Do it now. Keeping your shake roof not only endangers your own home, it endangers your whole neighborhood if your house catches fire and, as in so many large fires, things rage unchecked.

*Get rid of the fire-prone landscaping, like juniper which explodes from embers and burns long and hot. Make defensible space.

*Clean out your gutters! Even if you don't have trees, you have junk in your gutters carried on the wind.

*If you can transition to electrical from natural gas, this can reduce the house-to-house problem in post-earthquake fires. It's also considered more environmentally conscientious.

*Get citizen disaster training from one of the local groups --

Beyond that, there are things we can do to prevent stupid systemic problems, such as remembering that we, too, may need to evacuate in the event of an emergency (and stop making streets that are impassable even under the best of circumstances). Take city safety departments out from under planning so that safety can be first rather than only an afterthought and only if it's convenient. This is the kind of thinking that guarantees major loss of life.

Homeowners or homeowners groups can get those non-toxic fire retardant gels that can be sprayed on with a garden hose, and can be rewetted with a simple mist. This protects the integrity of the water system because you don't have people with endlessly running garden hoses dropping the water pressure, and people can protect their houses and leave. One home saved in a key place in a neighborhood can prevent the whole neighborhood from going. This is especially important in an area with so many trees, and so many new multi-family buildings with flat roofs in areas adjacent to fireprone areas. We can no longer expect that very urban environs or institutions will necessarily be spared. Everyone has to do their part.

Like this comment
Posted by the new smoky summers
a resident of Nixon School
on Sep 2, 2019 at 11:22 am

Buy masks early. Save yer lungs....

Oh, yeah - go find a climate denier and kick him in the shins.

6 people like this
Posted by the new smoky summers
a resident of Nixon School
on Sep 2, 2019 at 11:24 am

Oh, yeah - go find a pg&e exec and aim a little higher.

(not THERE, just a charley horse, as a playful sign of our love for all things pge!)


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2019 at 11:34 am

Our own hills are definitely a problem with respect to wildfires.

Take for example Page Mill Road leading to Foothills Park. That windy road, often full of bikes slowly riding uphill and very fast going downhill, would be a major escape route for hill residents as well as Park users. The Park itself only has one vehicle exit as well as very poor cell phone coverage. If a fire occurred most would not be aware until they saw the flames/smoke or possibly heard sirens from fire trucks.

I think a comprehensive plan for evacuating our own environs should be invoked and posted not only in the park but elsewhere on Page Mill.

6 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 2, 2019 at 11:54 am

Why isn’t the Palo Alto Fire wildland station not open 24/7 during this time of year?

3 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 2, 2019 at 12:32 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

We have major problems from the bay lands - high dead vegetation, freeway sides with high weeds, moving up in to houses where residents have dead vegetation directly in front of their homes. Fire care by residents and the city needs to be emphasized because we have a lot of visitors who use our roads and park on our streets who have no investment in the properties. We all have to pick up trash left by parkers.
The city should tag house owners who are not managing their front-on the street property to remove highly flammable plants which have already expired due to the very hot temperatures. We are talking totally dead plants here.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 2, 2019 at 9:22 pm

I remain concerned about tall, dry weeds and untrimmed trees, bushes at our 101 freeway entrances and exits. A car fire or careless visitor (commercial or Stanford traffic) might toss a cigarette out the window. It could spread into our nearby residential neighborhoods.

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 2, 2019 at 11:29 pm

The state should remove eucalyptus trees.
Around the Canada college turnoff from 280, there are far too many of these dangerous trees.
And if you look at Google map, you can see how dangerous it would be to live in the foothills.
Even with a fire station, there is probably no way to control a blaze if one were to start up there. The brush is too thick, and fires just race up hills like a chimney.
I am glad to live in the flat lands. The climate has changed. I used to think anything west of 280 was dangerous, but now I know fires can jump across multi-lane highways if it is windy. I saw this happen near Thousand Oaks when is crossed 101.

15 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 3, 2019 at 5:48 am

mauricio is a registered user.

We can start by removing every climate change denier from a position of influence. Having climate deniers in position of influence is like having NASA run by the flat earth society.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2019 at 10:08 am

Posted by Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> The state should remove eucalyptus trees.

Often known as "gum trees" in their native Australia, they are now understood to be the reason why some bushfires spread far more rapidly downwind than expected. Here is an article from the Australian research agency CSIRO:

Web Link

"Sullivan and his team, including researchers from the ANU, have studied how firebrand behaviour contributed to fire spotting on that day, with particular attention to the unkempt ribbon bark eucalypts such as Eucalyptus viminalis (manna gum) and E. rubida (candlebark).

"Ribbon barks typically shed their bark in hot weather, producing strips several metres long that have a tendency to curl longitudinally.

"Sullivan’s team used the CSIRO Vertical Wind Tunnel to investigate just how strips of burning bark from these trees combust under the conditions of terminal velocity (the maximum speed at which an object travels through the air). From this they could deduce how far they could travel as viable firebrands.

"They tested flat, simple cylinders and curled cylinders of bark, oven-dried to mimic wildfire conditions.

"The tests showed that the average burnt out time for short tightly curled cylinders was more than 7 minutes. This suggests that a similar firebrand 2.7 m long would be capable of remaining alight for more than 30 minutes. Under conditions typical of a high intensity forest fire, the firebrand would be capable of travelling and causing a spotfire 37 km away."

Sorry for the long quote. But, note that depending on type, ribbon bark firebrands from Eucalyptus can stay lighted for 10 miles (straight flat ribbon type) to 20 miles (curled ribbon type). During the Kilmore East fires of 7 February 2009 these conditions were encountered.

Australian building practice for housing located out in the bush is catching up with this potential. There is a lot of information available via the web of course. e.g. start here and follow the links:

Web Link

It is interesting to contemplate that those rather pretty trees (I admit, I like them) can produce firebrands that will stay burning for 5-30 minutes, spreading fire far, far downwind.

Like this comment
Posted by eucalyptus stinks
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Sep 3, 2019 at 11:16 am

> (I admit, I like them)

Ahhh, so you're the one.


They're a dirty, oily tree, as you highlighted. Non-native. Maybe while we're raking the forests, we can remove these, though I've been led to believe it is a commercially useless wood (warps, curls, etc..) Pulp, maybe?

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2019 at 1:14 pm

Posted by eucalyptus stinks, a resident of The Greenhouse

>> Ahhh, so you're the one.

It is all my fault. Ask anybody.

But, TBH, I think the trees generally need to be removed and replaced with native oaks. Takes a while, though. And, I also think that we in California need to get serious about linking insurance rates to building construction. It is quite possible to build bushfire resistant houses-- they just don't have that Sunset-Magazine look.

Web Link

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