Fires at Hastings

Controlled Burns

Vegetation Management Plan Controlled Burn School Hill - Dec. 12, 2007

For nearly 10 years, Hastings staff and the local California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF), with a new name of California Fire, have been planning a controlled burn for Hastings. We identified School Hill as an area on Hastings where fire could be conducted safely. School Hill is surrounded by a road at the base of the hill and has a trail to the top. This area had not burned in historical times. Yet, ecological and historical research show that fires in this oak woodland had been common before European settlement. Fires would burn through the area about every 5 years, renewing the landscape and stimulating new growth that is used by wildlife. The successful and safe fire was made possible by CDF crews, Gabilan crews, members of the Cachagua Fire Protection District, Terry Bishop, and Moveable Feast. Thanks to all, and especially to Jaime del Valle who organized the efforts.

Fire Predictions & Prescription

Fire is largely influenced by fuel moisture and amount, weather and topography. Wet, scattered fuels (grass) do not burn as intensely as huge volumes of dry wood (standing trees); wind and low relative humidity quicken a fire and fire burns up hill. Thus, a plan can be implemented so one only ignites a fire when fuel moisture just dry enough to burn, when winds are light and predictable and when you can use successive fire sets to burn areas uphill. One also has to have enough crew available to monitor for any "spotting" and be able to keep the fire in the planned burn area. Thus, we have been waiting for years for the right conditions. On December 12th, everything worked. Amazing.

On December 12th, everything worked. Amazing.

The Fire

School Hill has two small peaks. The fire was set in stages. First, the area between the peaks was burned to make safe "black" areas for people and equipment. Then, hand crews burned toward the edges of the black areas to enlarge them. Hiking down a bit, they started strips of fire that rapidly burned up and into the black area where they went out. Eventually, the crews hiked down to the edge of very steep chaparral hillside and could no longer safely ignite the vegetation on the top of the hill. They returned to the safe areas at the top or down the road along the bottom of the hill. Then a helicopter started to drop ping-pong balls of flammable material on the steep hillsides where people could not walk. Just as before, a row of fire was started to burn an area starting along a contour and burning up the hill into the "black". The helicopter then made another long flight along the side of the hill, igniting another strip that burned up the hill. Finally, the crews along the road ignited the final band that extended from the perimeter road up into the burned "black" area above. Eventually, everything that could ignite was burned. However, even with this effort, the fire left unburned patches in an irregular mosaic. Large areas on the north-facing and steep, shaded NW facing slopes did not burn.