Berkeley, CA, USA — Campus researchers and city residents are using both traditional and modern ways to improve fire prevention in Berkeley after heavy winter rains led to increased vegetation in the area.
A Web site developed earlier this month by UC Berkeley researchers gives residents detailed information about the risk of fire in their neighborhood.
But only a few weeks prior to the launch of the Web site, campus officials finished the first stage in clearing fire-prone grass from the hills in an all-natural way-using a herd of hundreds of goats.
UC Berkeley and other landowners have been using goats to control fire-prone vegetation for over a decade, said Tom Klatt, manager of the UC Berkeley Office of Emergency Preparedness.
As many as six herds of 350 goats each could be seen in the Berkeley Hills this summer. They were rented by UC Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the East Bay Regional Park District, among others, Klatt said.
The goats are set loose within areas contained by portable electric fences, where they eat grass and thistles commonly involved in the beginning of destructive wildfires, he said.
“The goats are a wonderful fuel management tool,” said Berkeley Deputy Fire Chief David Orth. “In areas where the goats grazed, fires have been less significant and easier to control.”
Maintenance of dry grass in the hills is important because it burns and spreads the flames quickly, making it hard for firefighters to get in front of the fire, Klatt said.
Goats have been in particularly high demand in Berkeley in the past two years, each of which had more than the usual amount of rainfall and increased vegetation in the summer, Klatt said.
UC Berkeley, which has used goats to maintain flammable grasses since the early ’90s, rented its herd this August from an Orinda-based goat ranch called Goats R Us, Klatt said.
The ranch maintains 6,500 goats year-round, including Spanish goats and angora crosses, said ranch owner Terri Oyarzun.
“We have a smorgasbord of goats,” she said.
Landowners began using the goats because they were more cost-effective for keeping dry grasses under control than using groups of people with weed-whackers, Klatt said.
“Goats are less expensive per acre of light fuels,” he said. “What you’re left with are goat pellets. The fuel is removed.”
In another effort to reduce the risk of brush fires, Campus officials announced the launch of a new fire-prevention tool open to the public.
The Fire Information Engine Toolkit, a Web site launched Sept. 13 by the UC Berkeley Center for Fire Research and Outreach, allows users to fill out an online form and receive feedback about the fire risk of a specific building or area.