An important aspect of the ongoing stewardship of JMLT properties is taking precautions to minimize the risk of fire. On June 29, 2019 the Moraga-Orinda Fire District in close partnership with other Bay Area county fire departments and John Muir Land Trust conducted a prescribed controlled burn along the eastern slope of Painted Rock.
Fire is an efficient tool that can be used to protect the environment and the safety of local communities. MOFD Battalion Chief Steve Gehling and a Fire District crew of 30 firefighters burned excessive amounts of brush and shrubs, greatly reducing the risk of future wildfires.
According to MOFD Fire Chief Dave Winnacker this was a text-book controlled burn. Required permits were all approved, and the planning and notifications were completed well in advance. Around 9 a.m. crews tested the weather and air quality, and then conducted a small test fire to determine how fast fire would travel that day and how much vegetation could be burned at one time. By late morning Gehling approved the test results and the full exercise began.
An unusual sight was firefighters pouring a mixture of diesel fuel and gasoline onto the brush, and then making no attempt to extinguish the fires. “The fire will put itself out,” Gehling said. “If done right, this is very easy to do.” A large bulldozer cleared trails and made sure the fire engines and water tankers could get anywhere they needed to go. The functionality of several specialized fire sensors recently installed in the area were successfully tested.
Once it became clear that the “safety strip” – an incinerated black path – could hold off the oncoming fires, crews removed bigger chunks of vegetation as they moved down the hill. By mid-afternoon, a 5-acre, 1,100 foot strip was completely charred. The fire was under control at all times and there was no negative impact to local wildlife.
“We can use this tool to make the community safer,” Gehling explained. “The black part of that hill will not burn the rest of this year.”