Fire in California
University of California
Fire in California

Treat Forest Fuels

Managing forest fuels around your home and property is an essential part of living with fire. By removing material, repositioning hazardous fuel, or simply preventing growth of fuel, one can greatly reduce the risk of ignition. Reducing these fuels and risk also create safer conditions for emergency responders to work in during fire.

Fuels treatments are typically designed to restore lands, make lands resilient to climate change, or protect specific resources.

  • Shaded Fuel Breaks are the most common and are often seen adjacent to high value resources (homes, structures) and high risk ignition  sources (power lines, roads). They remove understory plants and leave a heavy canopy to keep the forest surface cool and suppress understory plant growth.
  • Defensible Fuel Profile Zones create openings in the landscape to alter wildfire behavior and decrease fire intensity, mimicing a more natural fire condition. These treatments are designed to support a natural fire system rather than assist suppression efforts.

As we work towards restoring natural ecosystem interactions with fire, it is important to remember that plants grow with or without our influence. Fuel treatments are not a one-time fix, but a tool to help restore natural ecosystem processes in our forest. Below are the most common treatment options available to meet the needs of your land.


Prescribed Fire is an effective way to remove fuel from your property. Burning hazardous wood piles or broadcasting fire across the landscape can safely reduce fuel while mimicking natural wildfire processes. While there are liability and air quality risks to consider, most can be avoided with careful planning and local agency collaboration.
Grazing of small fuels with cows, goats and sheep can suppressing the growth and accumulation of new fuels. While this treatment is most effective at removing grass, herbs, and small diameter fuels, livestock can help to reduce ladder fuels by breaking off and trampling larger shrub material.
Herbicide  prevents the germination and accumulation of new fuels. Chemical treatments do not remove fuels, but can target invasive species to encourage the growth of natural fire-adapted vegetation. Chemical fuel treatments perform well in areas that are too steep or risky for other treatments to work.
Manual (Hand) treatments are effective at removing and separating fuels to reduce risk of spread during wildfire. Although manual treatments are labor and cost intensive, hand treatments can achieve specific aesthetic or ecosystem benefits in small areas.
Mechanized fuel reduction treatments may break-up fuel continuity both vertically and horizontally. Although limited to areas with low angled slopes and stable ground, mechanized treatments are not limited by fuel size.

While these treatments may be applied individually, best results are achieved when sequential treatments are applied to complement one another. While costly, there are many cost-share funding opportunities available to support fuel management projects.  Because fuel treatments do not generate value other than protecting land from wildfire, consider applying a treatment alongside a revenue-generating operation. Contact a local resource professional for more assistance.

 

Cost /Acre

Treatment Effectiveness
Treatment Role
Remove Woody Plants
Remove Small Shrubs
Remove Grass Suppress New Plants

Mechanized

$$ 5-7 years X X    

Herbicide

 $ - $$ 5-7 years     X X

Grazing

$$ - $$$ 1-3 years   X  X X
Prescribed Fire  $$ - $$$ 1-7 years   X X X
Manual (hand) $$$ 1-2 years  X X    

 

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