Fire is a natural part of the ecology of the western United States, including the lands within the San Francisco Bay Area national parks. Fire has wide ranging impacts on almost every facet of ecosystems including plant community composition and structure, wildlife species, soil nutrient cycling, disease cycles, hydrology, and climate. But fire doesn’t just affect the ecosystem and its inhabitants; it is also affected by the soil, water, air, vegetation and wildlife in an area. The study of all of these interactions is called fire ecology.
The frequency and distribution of fire in Bay Area national parks has changed dramatically over the years as it has been influenced by weather, climate, and the people who have used these lands including Native Americans, ranchers, loggers, the military, developers, and the National Park Service. Native Americans used fire as a land management tool, but since then various forms of agricultural, suburban, and urban development have changed the human and plant communities of the region, creating new patterns of fire across the landscape.
All San Francisco Bay Area national parks have Fire Management Plans that outline strategies to protect resources, property, and lives. Occasionally, the parks use prescribed fire as a tool to control invasive plants, increase biodiversity, and reduce hazardous fuels. All unplanned fires on National Park Service lands in the Bay Area, even natural lightning ignited fires, are suppressed. However, extreme weather conditions during hot dry summers have the potential to produce wildfires that overwhelm fire suppression capabilities. Examples include the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire and the 1995 Vision Fire. Bay Area national parks actively work with adjacent communities and local agencies to prepare for these kinds of events.
To learn more about fire and fire management in the Bay Area national parks visit the park fire pages below, or see the menus to the right:
For more information contact:
San Francisco Bay Area National Parks
Fire Education Office