Fires smoldered at several locations on the SFPUC’s watershed lands the week of April 3. The SFPUC’s watershed staff could not have been happier.
The SFPUC owns approximately 23,000 acres of watershed land in the San Mateo Creek Watershed on the Peninsula. Although these lands support high concentrations of rare and endangered species of plants and animals, portions are also located adjacent to private homes.
The forested watershed is also highly vulnerable to wildfire. The SFPUC’s Natural Resources and Lands Management staff worked with a newly-formed Cal Fire Engine crew solely dedicated to proactive fire prevention. This Cal Fire crew works to reduce the fuel load – woody debris and vegetation that catches fire. By keeping the fuel load down, the watershed managers reduce the risk of wildfire on watershed lands. A fire not only endangers nearby houses and the plants and animals on the watershed, it also could impact the quality of the drinking water supply water by causing runoff into the reservoirs.
The SFPUC staff prioritized areas that are in close proximity to adjacent neighborhoods for the Cal Fire Crew with the goal of creating defensible space between the watershed lands and these homes. Natural Resources and Lands Management Biologists carefully surveyed the areas where vegetation management occurred. Cal Fire biologists surveyed the burn piles prior to burning.
These areas were not easily accessed by vehicles or equipment, so crews had to hike in to trim up trees and bushes. Also, because of the difficult access, crews collected the cut brush in piles, and then waited for the perfect weather conditions – cool and wet with no Spare the Air Alerts. The time was right after about 30 days.
“Because of the shelter-in-place, people aren’t out driving their cars. Air quality was abnormally clear for this time of year,” said Emily Read SFPUC Right of Way Manager. “We were able to take advantage of the timing.”
The week of April 3 Cal Fire crews returned to their brush piles and carefully burned them. These types of activities with our Cal Fire partners greatly reduce the risk of catastrophic fire on our watershed lands. The SFPUC’s Natural Resources and Lands Management staff work all year on multiple fronts to reduce fire risk. In addition to controlled pile burns, staff manually mow and create vegetated fuel breaks using a huge machine nicknames the Brontosaurus.
All told the crews treated approximately 9 acres of Peninsula Watershed lands adjacent to nearby homes. Just in time for fire season.