California Communities Embrace Fuel Breaks as Effective Wildfire Strategy
After last year’s devastating fires in California, communities throughout the state are looking to put in fuel breaks as a strategy against wildfire threats, report Katie Brown and Lisa M. Krieger:
The fuel breaks vary widely in size and shape. In forests, you may not even notice them: The trees’ leafy canopies are left intact, but the forest floor is cleaned up. In open areas, they resemble swaths of low vegetation. Along the sides of paved roads, 20 to 30 feet of vegetation is cleared.
Fuel breaks protect homes and buildings by stopping or slowing the spread of flames. But they also help firefighters access sites where fires are burning and can provide safe areas while they are battling blazes.
They have proven to be an effective way to reduce fire risks in areas where vegetation has built up. At $2,000 to $3,000 an acre, however, they are costly to build and require maintenance and substantial administrative legwork. Still, fighting fires is much more costly than prevention, say community advocates.
Governor Gavin Newsom has included $213.6 million in the state budget for programs to clear and reduce vegetation in vulnerable, fire-prone areas. "Newsom also wants to spend $4.5 million to create a new California Conservation Corps program devoted exclusively to making wild landscapes safer," note Brown and Krieger.