UC Berkeley manages approximately 800 acres in the hills east of campus, an area referred to in the campus 2020 Long Range Development Plan as the “Hill Campus”.
The most dramatic physical feature of the Hill Campus is Strawberry Canyon, a watershed of roughly one square mile drained by the south fork of Strawberry Creek. This water supply helped convince the trustees of the early College of California to acquire the ranch lands along the creek in 1868 as the site for their new campus. At the time, the hills above the campus were a mix of grassland, oak savannah and open chaparral. It was not until speculators in the next decade planted eucalyptus, in a failed scheme to grow and harvest them for commercial use, that the hills began to acquire their present, largely forested look.
The mix of scrub and conifer and eucalyptus stands makes the East Bay Hills a regular seasonal fire risk. This risk becomes particularly pronounced during the periodic one- or two-day shifts from the normal northwesterly winds to ‘Diablo’ winds blowing in from the warm, dry regions to the east. 20th century Diablo wind fires have burned over ten times the acreage of normal wind condition fires, and include the firestorms of 1923 and 1991.
In partnership with other agency members of the Hills Emergency Forum, UC Berkeley maintains an ongoing program of fire fuel management in the Hill Campus to reduce fire risk to the campus, LBNL, neighboring residents, and recreational visitors to adjacent park and watershed lands. While the treatment used in a given area must be customized to address its specific conditions, including vegetation type, access, and proximity to roads and structures, in general the treatments are designed to meet one or more of the following goals:
- Reducing fuel load by removing dead material, reducing plant density, and favoring species with lower fuel content,
- Reducing horizontal spread by reducing fine fuel material and by separating dense clusters of vegetation with areas of lower fuel load, and
- Reducing vertical fire spread by increasing separation of understory and crown fuels.