Wildfire prevention project reduces fire fuels around East Campus

Ken Folsom with his fire truck

CSUMB Emergency Manager Ken Folsom | Photo by Florenz Tuazon

July 21, 2023

By Walter Ryce

Last winter’s record rain storms brought much-needed water to our drought-parched state. But the deluge also damaged homes and destroyed crops, and may contribute to another elemental force native to the region – fire. 

That extra water will nourish the growth of grasses, shrubs and other foliage, all fuel for wildfires, which are an acute threat to East Campus due to its proximity to and intermingling with this natural flora. 

“During the time plants are green and growing, our fire threat is lower,” said Ken Folsom, CSUMB’s emergency manager and former volunteer firefighter. “Now we’re coming into really dry conditions in the summer, and we have tall grasses that reach up to tree leaves. A fire on the ground can climb that ‘ladder’ up into the tree canopy.” 

In order to manage and reduce that wildfire threat to residents and homes, in 2021 Folsom authored a strategic plan, the main work of which is funded by the “CSUMB East Campus Wildfire Fuel Reduction Project” grant he secured from CAL FIRE. The goal is to create a safer campus community by reducing the potential risks, fuels and spread of wildfire. 

That grant funds the Wildfire Prevention Project, set to begin on July 24, and will continue for about 60 days. The Campus Planning Office is helping manage the work, which is described as “targeted landscape work sensitive to the local habitat” in the East Campus Housing Area and along InterGarrison Road. 

That work includes:

  • Removing dead plants, grass, weeds and other vegetation that can fuel fires
  • Cutting grasses and trimming trees and brush around homes
  • Pruning branches outside of fenced areas or front yards that are touching homes
  • Creating separation between trees, shrubs, and items that could catch fire 

This creates a so-called “defensible space,” which is a buffer between homes and surrounding grasses, trees, shrubs, and wildlands. According to CAL FIRE, this slows or stops the spread of wildfire and protects homes from embers, direct flame contact, or radiant heat.

“The object is to reduce the ladder fuels and not clear trees,” Folsom said. “Eliminate the ladder fuels and brush; the big trees don’t get going. It’s easier to manage, control, and put out a fire.”


Wulff Reinhold believes it was defensible space and fire-resistant building materials that protected his property from the 2017 Pressley Fire. | Photo by Wulff Reinhold


He points out that the work will be guided by principles laid out in the following: 

That document prescribes how the work should take place to avoid impacts on trees and vegetation such as the Monterey gilia, and creatures like the California tiger salamander. 

“We’ll also have a qualified biologist and certified arborist on site to make sure we follow CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] and best practices,” Folsom said. 

That can include pressure washing and inspecting equipment to reduce the spread of noxious weeds, or implementing zones resistant to burning embers which is required by law. Vegetation may be chipped on-site as directed by the biologist or removed in accordance with federal, state, and local regulations. 

Residents can expect crews to work around and behind housing units but not in backyards. Crews will work approximately 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; landscaping noise and dust may occur, and traffic is not expected to be impacted. 

As the work continues throughout the summer, the East Campus community will be notified and kept apprised by email, signage and other means so that residents can prepare for traffic or noise impacts. 

Clare Frank, California’s first female chief of fire protection, recently wrote in The New York Times that 80% of wildfires in the U.S. are caused by humans. 

Folsom recommends steps the campus community can take to mitigate those causes:

  • Do not set off fireworks anywhere on East Campus at any time
  • Do not park vehicles on top of tall grass because hot exhaust systems can ignite fires
  • Ensure ignited barbecue coals are completely extinguished with water, and never dump them in grassy areas
  • Secure tow chains so they do not strike the road and emit sparks 
  • Do not throw cigarettes onto the ground
  • Limit combustible items, such as outdoor furniture, planters, and the like, on top of decks

And to prepare for the threat of wildfire, he encourages the campus community to have a fire evacuation plan ready and to sign up for OTTERalerts to receive emergency alerts. 

For more information about the East Campus Wildfire Prevention Project, including maps and timelines, go to the Emergency Management webpage.