Tree-Thinning FEMA Grant Pulled In Neighborhoods Hit By Oakland Hills Firestorm

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — As the 25th anniversary of the Oakland hills firestorm looms, a sign posted in the neighborhood warns that the fire danger this weekend is very high.

The fight over how to best prevent another fire from destroying 3000 homes is heating up.

A $3.5 million FEMA grant for tree thinning at University of California at Berkeley and the city of Oakland has been pulled.

The grant remains in place for the East Bay Regional Parks District but some neighbors are feeling vulnerable.

“It’s a real disappointment to us and a real sense of frustration,” said Susan Piper of the Oakland Wildfire Prevention Assessment District.

Piper lost her home to the fire in 1991 and says they’ve been waiting for the grant for 10 years. The first target was thinning a stand of highly flammable eucalyptus trees near the Caldecott
Tunnel. They are called ‘gasoline on a stick’ in Australia.

Piper says the aim was to reduce the fuel so first responders can get in there to keep small fires small.

Fueling the other side of the argument is Dan Grassetti with the Hills Conservation Network. He is glad the grants were pulled.

“They became hijacked by some folks who decided fire risk mitigation money was a really great way to do native plant restoration, which is a fine thing to do, but it is not fire risk mitigation,” he said.

Dan Grassetti’s home was just four homes away from burning to the ground in the Oakland Hills Firestorm. It was saved when firefighters made a stand.

He says the eucalyptus trees were not the problem in 1991 and are not the problem now.

If you look at the data, the FEMA report for the ’91 fire, it had almost nothing to do with eucalyptus trees,” said Grassatti. “It was a house to house fire. The eucalyptus trees were incidental to the fire.”

Now, the Oakland Wildfire Prevention Assessment District has raised $300,000 to match the FEMA grant. Piper said they will be looking to re-allocate the funds.

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