Fire: A Natural Ecological Process

Fire, in many instances, is essential for a healthy ecosystem. The regular occurrence of fire enables many plant communities to evolve and acquire unique adaptations to withstand and regenerate after a fire.  Manzanitas and many other plants are able to resprout, knobcone pine cones release their seeds in response to heat from a fire, and many plant seeds germinate only following exposure to chemicals in fire smoke. All of these and many more important ecological functions require some regular occurrence of fire. Recognizing this crucial ecological need as well as the substantial damage to natural systems caused by severe fires intensified by years of fire suppression, the District sees benefits to the responsible re-introduction of fire to the ecosystem.

Fire Suppression in Urban Areas

Urbanization in the the San Francisco Bay region and beyond has necessitated the suppression of natural fires for the protection of public safety and property. The Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI)-- residential development within and adjacent to natural habitats (and District lands)-- is a challenge statewide as fire agency resources must stretch their efforts to protect public safety and property.

Partnering Agencies in Wildland Fire Management

While District staff are trained in wildland fire suppression techniques and possess limited firefighting equipment, the role of the District in wildland fire management in the San Francisco Bay Region is not fire suppression. Fire suppression is provided primarily through the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire), an agency that possesses the staffing, training, experience, and equipment necessary to suppress wildland fire where it occurs.  CalFire’s role is supplemented by local fire departments (such as Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, Woodside, Saratoga, and the county fire departments for San Mateo and Santa Clara) as well as statewide mutual aid agreements where fire fighting resources are available when necessary for large wildland fire events.

The District provides the land management expertise to provide for public safety and the protection of natural resources. This role extends also to vegetation management to reduce the severity of wildland fire, the resultant damage to resource values, and risks to public safety.

Wildland Fire Management Policy

The Board of Directors prioritized the development of resource management policies during a workshop held on October 25, 2004. Staff began development of a Wildland Fire Management Policy to address the management of District lands consistent with existing policies and goals of the Guiding Principles within the San Mateo Coastal Annexation Area Service Plan (Service Plan).

In November 2007, the District held a public workshop featuring a panel of experts representing various agencies and consulting professionals experienced in wildland fire management. The resulting Draft Wildland Fire Management Policy, reflected input from these expert sources as well as comments from the public, addressed the major themes identified during the workshop and clarified the District’s role in providing public safety and managing the natural environment.

The Board of Directors formally adopted the revised Resource Management Policies (RMPs), including the Final Wildland Fire Management Policy, on January 11, 2012.

Defensible Space Permit Program

One of the primary determinants of a home's ability to survive a wildfire is the quality of the surrounding "defensible space". Defensible space is an area around a structure where vegetation is treated, cleared or reduced to slow the spread of wildfire towards the structure and to provide room for firefighters to safely fight fires and protect homes. The District implements Defensible Space around its own structures, works with its tenants, and in June 2009, launched a Defensible Space Permit Program that allows neighbors whose homes are located within 100 feet of District boundaries to increase their fire safety by reducing vegetation on adjacent District lands once they have treated their own land. See if your home is eligible and apply for a Defensible Space (Fuel Reduction) Permit.

CAL FIRE Inspects for Defensible Space (April 22, 2009)