Fuels Treatment

The wildlands of California are naturally fire prone.  Past land and fire management practices have had the effect of increasing the intensity, rate of spread, as well as the annual acreage burned on these lands.  While most of the natural communities of plants and animals have adapted to natural fire conditions, these natural communities are now at risk from catastrophic wildfire primarily due to the hazardous fuel conditions.  Also at risk are the communities that interface with these wildlands, including those within wildland-urban interface (WUI) and rural areas.  Strategic management and control of wildland vegetation is essential to the safety, health, recreational, and economic wellbeing of California's citizens.

Hazardous fuels are live and dead vegetation that has accumulated and increases the likelihood of unusually large wildland fires.  When fire encounters areas of heavy fuel loads (continuous brush, downed vegetation or small trees) it can burn these surface and ladder fuels and may quickly move from a ground fire into a crown fire.

Hazardous fuel reduction generally requires the reduction of surface and ladder fuels. It may also require thinning out dense tree stands, preserving mature sized trees. It can be accomplished using fire, biological methods, chemical and/or mechanical treatments to remove or modify fuels in wildland areas.

For years, managers have recognized the risks of damage to the environment, housing and infrastructure from wildland fire and have acted to reduce wildland hazardous fuels, by thinning, prescribed burning, and other vegetation treatments.  Reducing fire intensity through vegetation management can substantially aid in wildland fire containment and control, while creating safety zones for fire fighter and citizen safety.

Fuel treatments are intended to lower the risk of catastrophic wildfires by managing vegetation to modify/reduce hazardous fuels.  The goal of fuel treatment projects is to modify fire behavior to reduce environmental damage and aid in suppressing wildfires.  Benefits from fuel treatments include; prevent loss of lives, reduce fire suppression cost, reduce private property losses and protect natural resources (control of unwanted vegetation, including invasive species, improvement of rangeland for livestock grazing, improvement of fish and wildlife habitat, enhancement and protection of riparian areas and wetlands, and improvement of water quality) from devastating wildfire. 

CAL FIRE funds and carries out various types of wildland fuels treatments, for the purpose of reducing fire hazard or severity, through a number of programs. Programmatic environmental documents provide the CEQA disclosure and analysis for fuels projects carried out under the Vegetation Management Program and California Forest Improvement Program. Fuels treatments that are out of the scope of the analysis of these CEQA documents require additional environmental analysis and documentation.

Links to CAL FIRE's fuel treatment programs are provided below:

Fuels Treatment Project environmental notices and documents are currently available for review and comment on the Public Notice page.

Fuel Break - Fuel breaks are wide strips of land where trees and vegetation have been reduced or removed. These areas can slow, and even stop, the spread of a wildland fire because they provide fewer fuels to carry the fire. They also provide firefighters with safe zones to take a stand against a wildfire, or retreat from fire if the need arises. Typically, fuel breaks are located in strategic locations based upon terrain, existing roads, community areas, and other key access points. Fuel breaks can be divided into two categories, shaded and non-shaded.

Non-Shaded Fuel Break - A fuel break without shade normally comprises a change in vegetation type, such as from forest or shrubland into grassland. Since a large opening is essentially cleared of woody vegetation to create a non-shaded fuel break, heavy equipment is typically used for construction, except on steep slopes, where manual or prescribed fire treatments are employed.

Figure 1-2
Non-Shaded Fuel Break

Shaded Fuel Break - A shaded fuel break is constructed in a forest setting. Typically, the tree canopy is thinned to reduce the potential for a crown fire to move through the canopy. The woody understory vegetation is likewise thinned out. The shade of the retained canopy helps reduce the potential for rapid re-growth of shrubs and sprouting hardwoods and can reduce erosion.

Figure 1-3
Before and After Shaded Fuel Break

Fuel Management Zones - These are areas, usually surrounding communities, where the natural vegetative cover is reduced in density, though not usually to the level of reduction typical of a fuel break. After installation of the treatment prescription, fuel ladders are greatly reduced, and overstory and understory vegetation is spatially separated so that a ground fire will not, under normal fire conditions, climb into the canopy and turn into a crown fire.

Figure 1-4
Before and After Fuel Management Zone

Defensible Space - Defensible space is an area within the perimeter of a parcel, development, neighborhood, or community where basic wildland fire protection practices and measures are implemented, providing the key point of defense from an approaching wildfire, or defense against encroaching wildfires or escaping structure fires. The perimeter is defined as the area encompassing the parcel or parcels proposed for construction and/or development, excluding the physical structure itself. The establishment and maintenance of emergency vehicle access, emergency water reserves, street names, building identification, and fuel modification measures characterize the area. The configuration of post-treatment vegetation can be similar to that of a shaded fuel break.

Figure 1-5
Before and After Defensible Space

The objective of projects is to remove enough fuel so that when a wildfire burns, it is less severe and can be more easily suppressed.

Crown Fuels - Crown fuels are only in the "crowns" or tops, of the trees. They do not touch the ground and are usually the high branches of trees.
Ladders Fuels - The live or dead vegetation that allows a fire to climb up from the forest floor (surface fuels) into the tree canopy (crown fuels).
Surface fuels - Vegetative materials on or near the ground through which fire will spread. These materials range from downed woody material (leaf litter, dead branches and logs) to brush and grass.


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