With a new vegetation processing machine and ongoing efforts to collaborate with Cal Fire, San Mateo County officials are ramping up efforts to mitigate the risk of fire in county parks as part of an effort to plan for changes in California’s wildfire season.
To ensure combustible vegetation in San Mateo County parks is reduced and that the public and first responders can access and evacuate county parks quickly, the San Mateo County Parks Department has been focused on maintaining access to fire roads and establishing fuel breaks, or clearings of brush and trees, explained Nicholas Calderon, the county’s deputy parks director.
New this year to the county’s arsenal for mitigating wildfire risk is a piece of equipment called the masticator, a machine that can mulch vegetation and is expected to allow parks staff to maintain low levels of vegetation throughout the year and curb ladder fuels, or brush that can take a low-level fire and convert it into a canopy fire, he said.
Though wildfire fuel mitigation is an ongoing priority for the department, Calderon acknowledged an executive order signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and directing the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to identify communities at risk for wildfires has cast a spotlight on specific areas pegged by Cal Fire as high-priority fuel reduction projects. Of the 35 projects Cal Fire identified this year, two are situated in San Mateo County, one on Kings Mountain Road in Huddart Park and another in Quarry Park.
In a 70-acre project along Kings Mountain Road and a 100-acre project in Quarry Park, crews hired by Cal Fire are expected to create shaded fire fuel breaks, explained Calderon. Aimed at reducing the potential intensity of a wildfire and preserving first responders’ ability to respond to a disaster should one take shape in a park, shaded fuel breaks are created by removing ground-level vegetation and trees less than 10 inches in diameter within 30 feet to 200 feet of a road, according to a staff report.
“Because of the change in California’s wildfire season, we want to make sure that we are actively managing our resources and reducing fire fuels in an appropriate manner,” he said.
Calderon said notices have been sent out to neighbors of Huddart and Quarry parks about the projects set to begin in mid-August, and noted signs will be posted throughout the duration of Cal Fire’s work so visitors know what areas are being worked on in a given day. He noted some of the work on Kings Mountain Road may require temporary road closures, while Quarry Park is expected to remain open to visitors throughout the project, though portions of it may be closed at specific times.
Calderon looked to a new training program for parks staff on use of equipment like the masticator as well as best practices on fire fuel reduction to also help bolster the department’s efforts to reduce wildfire risk. Expected to be launched in the fall, the program will help increase the department’s efficiency in maintaining low levels of brush throughout the year and across the county’s park system, he said.
Calderon was optimistic the efforts the department is taking on this year in collaboration with Cal Fire would not only help reduce combustible vegetation and enhance public safety but also help restore the natural habitats in county parks.
“We understand we have an obligation to take appropriate actions to do what we can to mitigate these risks, especially in parks that are adjacent to residential neighborhoods,” he said.
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