But then they catch on fire.” This is Gallup’s favorite part of the job, he says—choosing which trees to remove, which trees to keep. (510) 528-8550, Subscription Customer Service: But even under the worst conditions, there is the possibility of containing a grass fire, he says. These varieties are majorly used for ornamental purposes because of the shapes and colors of their flowers! According to both the FEMA environmental impact statement and a 2016 study of blue gums in California by ecologist Kristina M. Wolf and biologist Joseph M. DiTomaso, blue gum has an ignition rating of 1 out of 10, with one being the most easily ignited. The tree sheds bark and dead leaves, which make a perfect pile of tinder under the tree too. The natural oils of the eucalyptus tree make it extremely flammable. Gallup parks his truck and we get out to walk down the fire trail. His writing about science and the environment has been published by Outside, Scientific American, The Atlantic, and many others. We pass a man in an excavator stacking eucalyptus logs. Gum trees make up the majority of trees in the country. “But there’s a lot of fuel there, too. As we walk the downhill side of the road, Maloney points out what he sees as potential hazards: dry wood chips, brush that should be cleared out, a thistle-covered hillside, more sun, more wind. It looks scrubby and multitextured compared to the stand of blue gum across the road. They call the eucs bad neighbors. (It’s also why, even in the hottest fire, it’s almost always a tree’s branches and leaves burning, not its trunk.) They are flammable: Being rich in oils, eucalyptus trees are highly flammable. We target grass. But some of it burns better. This accelerates the eucalyptus fire hazards in a region and discourages firefighting efforts. Fire often even seems to have a rejuvenating effect on the trees. Share your love of Bay Area nature with a Bay Nature gift subscription and save over 30%! "— Fabien Hubert Wagner, forest cover study lead author at National Institute for Space Research - INPE Brazil The Hills Conservation Network, a small Berkeley nonprofit whose members live in the area covered by the FEMA grant, promptly sued FEMA to stop the grant, focusing in particular on roughly 350 acres of Oakland and UC Berkeley property in Claremont Canyon and Strawberry Canyon and around the Caldecott Tunnel, where all nonnative trees—predominately eucalyptus—would be removed. Ross Bradstock, a wildfire expert at the University of Wollongong, says that while being able to empirically compare the flammability of different trees would be useful, it’s not currently possible. The heat of the fire forms a convection column, with 60-mile-per-hour winds that rip burning strips of bark from the trees and toss them upward. “But the thing that’s most concerning is the volume of material it can produce.”. Scientists speculate that flammable eucalyptus trees evolved to be âfire friendly.â Rapidly catching fire until there is no obvious tinder allows the plant to retain most of its trunk when fire moves on to find more to burn. Because its components are easier to ignite, a grass fire can also spread much faster than a fire in trees. The eucalyptus trees easy recovery added with its volatile oily gasses, make it a potentially threatening species for California woodlands and similar areas known to house these trees. On warm days eucalyptus oil vapour rises above the bush to create the well-known distant blue haze of the Australian landscape. The Sierra Club suit argues that the plan should remove more nonnative trees, that leaving eucalyptus and Monterey pine standing would mean prohibitively expensive maintenance, and that removing the trees would allow native species to flourish. Perhaps as important, Kent says, this side is cheaper. 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