OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — The threat from a dangerous fire source in the Oakland Hills is now greater than ever.
As the 25th anniversary of the Oakland Hills firestorm looms—a sign in those very hills points to the fire danger today as very high.
The fight over how to best prevent the next fire from destroying 3,000 homes is beginning to heat up.
A $3.5 million FEMA grant for tree thinning at UC Berkeley and the city of Oakland has been pulled.
The grant remains in place for East Bay Regional Parks District.
“It’s a real disappointment to us and a real sense of frustration,” Susan Piper with the Oakland Wildfire Prevention Assessment District said.
Piper lost her home to the fire in 1991, and says they’ve been waiting for the grant for ten years, and target one was thinning a stand of highly flammable eucalyptus trees near the Caldecott Tunnel.
“Reduce the fuel, create space so that first responders can get in there to keep those small fires small,” Piper said.
Fueling the other side of the argument is Dan Grassetti with the Hills Conservation Network, who is glad to see the grants for Oakland and Cal 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,” Grassetti said.
Grassetti’s home was just four homes away from burning to the ground in the Oakland Hills Fire, and 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, it was a house to house fire. The eucalyptus trees were incidental to the fire,” Grassetti said.
Now, the Oakland Wildfire Prevention Assessment District had raised $300,000 to match the FEMA grant. Piper says they will be looking to re-allocate the funds.