Regional Parks Hit By Unprecedented Number Of Wildfires
This year’s fire season has been extreme, both locally and statewide. As of this writing, over 8,320 CalFire incidents have been tracked in California. In the East Bay, the SCU Complex Fire, started by lightning in mid-August, included fires in Round Valley, Morgan Territory, Mission Peak, Sunol Wilderness, and Ohlone Wilderness regional parks. It burned 396,624 acres and was active for 44 days.
Climate change is accelerating the risk of catastrophic fires. Eight of the most destructive fires in California history have occurred in the past four years, with the SCU Complex Fire being the third largest on record. Our full-time and on-call fire crews – employees, including park rangers, trained and available to fight wildfires when needed – made significant contributions to battling the fires. The Park District’s Eagle 7 helicopter pilots dropped water and provided tactical guidance as the “eye in the sky” when state air resources were unavailable.
Even with Covid restrictions in place, our fuels reduction effort has continued, and our Wildland Fire Fighters were dispatched not only to our own area, but also to assist CalFire in surrounding counties as requested. I am very proud of our own EBRPD heroes. During the fires, our parks benefited from our continuous and ongoing trails and fuels maintenance programs and grazing. In many cases, the fires stopped at properly maintained fire roads and slowed down in grazed grasslands. Grazing cattle also play an important role in wildfire protection as “Four-Hoofed Firefighters”, reducing flammable grass and brush in parks. The Park District grazes approximately 65 percent of the parklands with cattle, goats, and sheep throughout the year.
In the parks that are burnt, we are clearing debris from trails and removing safety hazards. Sadly, a great number of wildlife and heritage oaks were lost in the fires. Hopefully, nature will recover and heal itself over time, with help and attention from our staff and volunteers.
Thank you to all the firefighters that have been battling this year’s fires. We appreciate your courage and dedication as you work hard 365 days a year to prepare, train, and protect people and Regional Parks from wildfire.
Robert E. Doyle