A controlled burn conducted several years ago in Tilden. Credit: East Bay Regional Park District

Update, May 21, 2:15 p.m. A controlled burn scheduled for Monday in Tilden Regional Park has been postponed due to logistical reasons.

The burn would have required coordination between the East Bay Regional Park District, the Moraga-Orinda Fire District and the Berkeley and Oakland fire departments. With weather conditions looking uncooperative, the park district decided to wait to burn. “It’s a lot of resources to put up there for, ‘It might be the right weather,'” said Aileen Theile, the district’s fire chief.

Theile said there’s a potential the burn will have to be called off if fire season starts early and agency resources get tied up in fighting fires, but she’s hopeful the district will be able to reschedule.

Original story: May 21, 12:30 p.m. A controlled burn of 2.5 acres of grass in Tilden Regional Park is tentatively planned for Monday near Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Golf Course Road.

The burn is part of the East Bay Regional Park District’s efforts to create a “strategic ridgeline fuel break” along Grizzly Peak Boulevard that can help slow a major fire before it crests the ridge and sweeps down the hills toward the UC Berkeley campus. 

Controlled burns are one weapon in the park district’s arsenal for removing the fuels that allow grass fires to become infernos, said Aileen Theile, the district’s fire chief, during a community meeting Wednesday. A 12-person team works year round to clear dense underbrush, to thin forests and to remove hazardous trees — mostly Eucalyptus and pine. The team is complemented by a herd of about 6,000 cattle, 1,500 sheep and 1,600 goats that munch their way toward greater fire safety. The park district’s wildfire hazard reduction plan describes prescribed burns as “a cost-effective way to quickly reduce the large volume of woody material that remains after other fuel reduction operations.”

Theile said fire was chosen for the site in Tilden, rather than a lawnmower or a herd of goats, because the slope makes it difficult to mow and fire is effective at combatting a non-native harding grass that’s invaded the area. The district spent $2.3 million in total on vegetation management in 2020, but it says climate change-fueled heat waves and a pattern of tree die-backs means more money is needed, and the district is seeking additional state and federal grants.

“We don’t have any notion that we’re going to be able to stop human-caused fires, but we can make those fires more survivable and less catastrophic by removing some of the fuels,” said Theile, who described the burn planned for Monday as “very small, very specific and very thoughtful.” Theile promised the burn will release little smoke and reassured residents that a Berkeley fire engine will be on hand. A portion of Golf Course Road will be closed for a short time during the burn.

Another benefit of prescribed burns is increased plant diversity and the growth of native grasses, officials say. 

The park district only allows prescribed burns under specific conditions related to moisture levels in the wood and wildlife and botanical activity. Approval from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District is also necessary.

Theile said conditions may force the park district to delay Monday’s burn. 

“We are hoping to do the fire, but the weather may not cooperate,” she said. “We need to have brown grass to burn and currently it’s very green.”

This story was updated after publication with additional information.

Before joining Berkeleyside as managing editor in April 2021, Zac was editor of the Southwest Journal, a 30,000-circulation biweekly community paper in Minneapolis, MN. While there, he led coverage of...