Berkeley fire chief addresses media at emergency forum
Berkeley Fire Chief David Brannigan at the Inspiration Point press conference for the Hills Emergency Forum on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. Photo: William Lundquist

After the most destructive year of wildfires on record in California, the Hills Emergency Forum held a press conference at Inspiration Point in Tilden Park on Wednesday to alert the public about the importance of fire prevention and called on East Bay residents for help. The Hills Emergency Forum is a collection of agencies responsible for the collection of fire hazard data and establishing protocols for fire prevention in the East Bay. It focuses on public education programs, multi-jurisdictional training and fuel reduction strategies.

Berkeley Fire Chief David Brannigan is optimistic that wildfire prevention efforts will be well supported in Berkeley.

“Our budget passed last night and we got several hundred thousand dollars to put towards fuel management that we haven’t had before,” Brannigan said.

The fire department plans to use the money to reduce unnecessary vegetation and clear out evacuation routes in the case of a fire.

The City Council’s budget policy committee carved out an extra $180,000 for equipment and disaster response training and $233,333 in vegetation management for the budget proposed by Mayor Jesse Arreguín on Tuesday night. That budget was passed by the Council. Arreguín also asked the city manager to consider spending $1.1 million “on an outdoor emergency warning system to be used in the event of a wildfire and when the State’s early warning system is operational, to alert of an impending earthquake.” The additional $1.1 million won’t be considered until November.

Brannigan said everyone in Berkeley, not just the residents who live in the hills, should be aware of the importance of fire safety and be educated on how to prevent property damage in the case of a fire.

“While the most hazardous areas as designated by the state and city of Berkeley are in the hills, everybody needs to be concerned and focusing attention on this,” he said. “In Berkeley, because properties are so tight and houses are so close to each other, maintaining trees and shade to keep moisture higher, hardening your home, removing vegetation that would help a fire spread, and keeping your roofs gutter clear of any dead plant matter, and knowing how to get information should a fire start and where to go and practice evacuating [are all important measures to take].”

The forum was primarily concerned with addressing the public and providing ways that residents of the East Bay can do their part in wildfire prevention. Different fire departments and East Bay Regional Parks officials took turns speaking, each one addressing the importance and urgency of fire prevention and safety this summer.

“Our message is simple. We need the public’s help to reduce the threat of fire. Clearing of seasonal weeds, brush and combustible debris from your property now and then maintaining your property in a fire safe condition reduces the fire threat.” said El Cerrito and Kensington Fire Marshal Dave Gibson.

“Fire season is upon us and we need your help to keep our communities safe,” said Oakland Assistant Fire Marshall Vincent Crudele. “Fire defense is self-defense, we ask you to join our team and prepare now because it’s not a matter of if a fire occurs but when.”

While a wildfire can seem a daunting and unstoppable force, there are many ways to prevent it from reaching the point of devastation that California has repeatedly experienced over the last couple of years, the officials said.

This story was updated after publication to remove several points about fire safety from the bottom.

William Lundquist is an intern at Berkeleyside for the summer of 2019. He is a Berkeley native and a third-year student pursuing a BA in English at UW-Madison. William writes for the arts section of Madison's...