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Oil has a higher energy density and lower ignition point than cellulose (the stuff plant cell walls and Mini Wheats are made of), and in a hot fire, these oils can boil out of the leaf and then ignite, which is why blue gums have a reputation for exploding. Vaporization Temperature: 266°F/130°C Properties: Antiseptic, expectorant, stimulates local blood flow, anti-fungal. If there is a single factor that makes the blue gums a fire hazard, it is this. Prepared by Andrew Lyne, ANBG staff, 2003 There are some 800 species of Eucalyptus. It is true, he says, that—as Maloney argues—a fire would spread through the grass covering the hillside on this side of the road much faster than through the eucalyptus opposite. Both the FEMA impact statement and Wolf and DiTomaso’s study list the source of the ignitability rating as a 2009 wildfire hazard reduction and vegetation management report by California-based environmental consultants LSA Associates, prepared for the East Bay Regional Park District. It’s his job to make sure that if and when this forest burns, it doesn’t take half of Berkeley with it. Leaving the eucalyptus as-is endangers thousands of homes and people and isn’t a viable option, he says. It’s late September, in a eucalyptus grove on the ridgeline above the UC Berkeley campus. It might indeed get away, or catch houses on fire. Nowadays, the increasing oil consumption throughout the world induces crucial economical, security, and environmental problems. “It’s not just eucalyptus we target. Eucalyptus grow right across the Australian continent, from the arid to the cold sub-alpine regions. The ground is muddy. The wet leaves didn’t burn, but the dry leaves of both species flared impressively and smoked up my apartment. we burn mainly eucalyptus. He has also independently researched the costs of eucalyptus removal and management. -David Bowman, University of Tasmania fire ecologist, In the Bay Area, though, it’s not enough to just say the blue gums are flammable, Dave Maloney points out as we drive from Walnut Creek toward Berkeley. We drive along the ridgeline and re-enter the park, and into what looks and feels like a vast eucalyptus forest. It’s clear that fire benefits the trees. “Anybody who wants to encourage really flammable plants in an urban mix has to do it with their eyes open,” David Bowman told me. It’s the same reason that crumpled newspaper will ignite more easily than a log—a fire requires oxygen, heat, and fuel, and grass and balled-up paper are airier and easier to heat to the point of ignition. It was immediately clear that the debate over the blue gum’s flammability is only one of several parallel conversations around the tree; while that is the Hills Conservation Network’s primary focus, it was not necessarily what most interested the individual protesters or their opponents. Koalas love to munch on the leaves, and the essential oil is popular in aromatherapy and herbal remedies. He says the FEMA plan ignores both the task force’s findings and good sense—that removing the trees would actually make the hills more liable to burn, as exemplified by this field, once covered in blue gums, now thick with grass and thistles. -Brad Gallup. Like Maloney, he says he got involved after researching the FEMA plan and coming to the conclusion that removing trees would make the area more fire prone, not less. This is another of blue gums’ talents—its bark makes ideal braziers. His writing about science and the environment has been published by Outside, Scientific American, The Atlantic, and many others. At his urging, I did the same. After an extensive search, I came up with four studies that concluded blue gum leaves have a heating value of about 10,000 BTU per pound, which is a little less than coal and about 1,500 BTU more than your average plant material. The East Bay Regional Park District is taking something of a middle approach to fire prevention in the eucalyptus groves it manages, thinning the trees rather than clearing them outright. The trees that remain standing are big and widely spaced. 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. It argued that clearing trees would actually make the hills more flammable. The oils in the wood along with the ability to create an intense flame has led some wood stove distributers or chimney sweeps to recommend not burning the wood. “We’re trying to change fire behavior,” he says, “to make it easier to put the fire out, to give people more time to evacuate.”. You get away from stress, smell the smells, see the birds. However it gives off a good, lasting heat and burns very slowly. Like the other Australians I spoke with, Sullivan called the Bay Area blue gums “supersized,” treated to better soils than those in nutrient-poor Australia and untrimmed by their native pests. Though the fire started in grass, the trees were blamed for the severity of the disaster, by some estimates contributing almost three-quarters of the fire’s energy. But it is plenty complicated on its own. Lots of people are familiar with Eucalyptus as an ingredient in cold remedies like Vicks VapoRub. Thickets of eucalyptus spring up on either side, their leaves and bell-shaped nuts cluttering the roadside. General Information: Eucalyptus is native from Australia, where it comprises more than 75% of all trees. Gallup considers the gum, buried in a pyre of its own debris. List of the Pros of Eucalyptus Furniture. At the fire’s edges, trees appear to explode as the volatile oils in their leaves reach their boiling point and vaporize. The roughly two dozen Australian and American wildfire experts, eucalyptus experts, and fire ecologists I communicated with while reporting this story (the majority of them with no personal connection to the local debate) were unanimous in their verdict: Blue gum eucalyptus is especially, dangerously flammable. That stuff”—the brush—“is going to expand here. In many parts of the state, people planted eucalyptus for that express purpose; the wind inside a forest might have less than half the wind speed it would in the open. Often known more for the oil extracts than the wood itself, when burned, eucalyptus takes advantage of these natural oils to achieve a high burn temperature. The ability to retain the trunk gives the eucalyptus species a jump start on regrowing from the ashes. The shower of firebrands tossed from the ridgeline by the 100-foot-tall trees foils any attempt to create a firebreak. It's nice to mix it with less dense firewoods such as Cherry or Elm when wanting good quick daytime heat. The seven-boled tree is on the uphill side of the trail. Trees near the ridgeline can collect inches of fog-drip a year, sometimes even rivaling the amount they might collect from rainfall. Grade: 2-3: Eucalyptus: Eucalyptus: Allow to season well since the wood is very wet (sappy) when fresh. We turn a corner and stop between a feller buncher (which both fells trees and gathers them into bunches) and a chipper. About a month after my visit to Signpost 29 with Dave Maloney, I return with Dan Grassetti, founder and director of the Hills Conservation Network, the nonprofit that’s filing suit against FEMA. But, as with the BTU comparisons, there are few applicable apples-to-apples (or blue-gums-to-bay-laurels) studies of ignitability in the Bay Area. The long history of widespread eucalyptus planting has resulted in several species becoming controversial during the 1980s. Essential Oil Burn Salve Recipe. Some wood fires reach heats as high as 1600 degrees Fahrenheit. Eucalyptus oil and fire are a match made in heaven from the fire’s perspective but a nightmare for those of us in its path. If you cut down these trees and eliminate this source of fuel, well, what’s going to happen? Now imagine a fire. have been in this house for 25 years.we clean the chimney every couple of years. These beautiful stately trees are filled with aromatic oil, which makes them highly combustible. Eucalyptus oil is sometimes referred to as ‘fever oil’, so that’s something of a clue as to how useful it is for combating fevers! This “shaded fuel-break,” as he calls it, should help slow down fires. Editor’s note: In late September, FEMA rescinded its fire mitigation grants to UC Berkeley and the City of Oakland, covering the 350 most contentious acres. In the event that a fire does destroy the aboveground parts of the tree, it can send up new shoots from lignotubers, nutrient-filled organs hidden among its roots. Eucalyptus is a shrubby, flowering plant with a fresh and herbaceous fragrance. “Every piece of vegetation is flammable. The picture this paints is of California and other areas experiencing serious eucalyptus fire damage. This is Gallup’s favorite part of the job, he says—choosing which trees to remove, which trees to keep. The majority of these occur naturally in Australia with only a few species extending naturally into parts of Melanesia and the Philippines. The plant is already head and shoulders above the native species when fire recovery begins. The forest between us and him is already mostly thinned. The workers who cut the trees then didn’t treat the stumps with herbicide, and now they’re regrown, more trunks and closer together. 2. But not today. In the early 2000s, UC Berkeley and the nonprofit Claremont Canyon Conservancy cleared 70-odd acres on the south side of Claremont Avenue. Bay Nature connects the people of the San Francisco Bay Area to our natural  world and motivates people to solve problems with nature in mind. It naturally resists the influence of moisture because of the high oil content it naturally contains. White Oak is a great firewood for holding a fire overnight. Broadly, the protest was about the Sierra Club’s perceived hypocrisy; the environmentalist organization is also suing FEMA as a sort of countersuit to the Hills Conservation Network’s pro-euc suit. Some 600 members of genus Eucalyptus dominate forests across Australia. But then they catch on fire.”, “The forests are beautiful. Still, both documents say there is a fire hazard. BIRDS AND THE BEES Some years ago, I was told that eucalyptus trees could spontaneously combust. The plants are considered dangerous in fire prone areas because of their habit of shooting sparks if they catch fire. Eucalyptus is a popular evergreen tree that’s widely used for its medicinal properties. After a fire, many eucalypt species will sprout epicormic shoots along their entire trunks. Eucalyptus fire hazards are also cited in efforts to remove the trees. 1. Grass also earns a 1, while oak/bay woodland earns a 6 and scrub vegetation earns a 4 to 8. At this point, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop the fire, Brad Gallup says. Relative humidity is in the low teens, and any moisture hidden in the debris below the trees has long wicked away. Sign up to get all the latest gardening tips! And then from somewhere down in the woods there is the sound of a saw. This page lists some of those species suitable for growing in the colder regions of t… Scientists speculate that flammable eucalyptus trees evolved to be “fire friendly.” 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. I’m going to live up to that promise.” The ground around the tree is littered with its bark and leaves, inches deep in places. To find out where that rating came from, I followed a twisted path from document to document, each taking me a little further back in time. This accelerates the eucalyptus fire hazards in a region and discourages firefighting efforts. Today eucalypts are to be found growing in many parts of the world for their timber and horticultural appeal. The oil leaves a smoggy miasma hanging over the eucalyptus groves. Bowman says the burn-your-neighbors theory, inspired by a 1970 paper by American forester Robert W. Mutch, suggests intent: By this reading, the eucalypts’ oil-rich leaves evolved to ignite easily; their peeling bark evolved to be carried aloft by the wind off a fire, spreading the blaze; they evolved to resprout quickly after a fire from both seed and shoot not just because they evolved in a landscape that burns frequently, but because, in some flori-sadomasochistic way, they want to be burnt. Eucalyptus wood is resistant to rot and decay. Tasmanian blue gums, Eucalyptus globulus, don’t like cold. Because its components are easier to ignite, a grass fire can also spread much faster than a fire in trees. On hot days in Tasmania and blue gum’s other native regions, eucalyptus oil vaporizes in the heat. There is no single, knockout paper or study that shows that blue gums are drastically more dangerous fire-hazards than other local species, that’s true, but that’s probably too much to ask anyway. Eucalyptus Firewood. Removal of the trees has been recommended largely due to eucalyptus fire damage but also because they are taking the place of native species. When the project is finished, he says, only the bigger trees will be left, with a wide gap between the forest floor and its canopy. Sign up for our newsletter. For advocates of the FEMA plan, Signpost 29 is a good example of what will happen when eucalyptus is removed; to their opponents, it is a prime example of the folly in removing the trees. When the oils in the tree heat up, the plant releases flammable gas, which ignites into a fireball. Andrew Sullivan, a bushfire expert at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Canberra, says that in Australia, dry eucalypt forest might accumulate eight to 12 tons of debris per acre. 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. Steep for 10 minutes and drink. Native plant advocates also argue that the trees are inhospitable to many native animals and generally reduce biodiversity in areas they dominate. 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. From unclear comparisons of leaf chemistry, we are led down progressively less rewarding or elucidating scientific rabbit holes. Finally, Maloney says, cutting the trees would make the hills drier, both by increasing the amount of sun hitting the ground and because the trees collect condensation on their leaves. In the same way that blowing on a campfire will rouse the coals, wind increases the amount of oxygen to a fire and hastens its spread. However, the aroma of burning eucalyptus has also been described as "medicinal," which can alter the flavor of baked goods and other foods. For most of the year, these trees would collect fog and slow the breeze, and they might indeed make a fire less likely, Scott Stephens says. After an extensive search, I came up with four studies that concluded blue gum leaves have a heating value of about 10,000 BTU per pound, which is a little less than coal and about 1,500 BTU more than your average plant material. The high oil content of eucalyptus leaves also means that they burn hotter than less oily leaves. It’s not personal. Please help us keep this unique regional magazine thriving, and support the ecosystem we’ve built around it, by subscribing today. Not just any fire, but the fire, the fire that all this is about. There are plenty of people who simply like the trees for their own sake, but the debate is also about deeper questions, like what it really means for a species to be native or nonnative, what really constitutes natural, and even whether it is hubris to imagine that humans can break our habit of wreaking unintended consequences. The gums are mottled tan and brown like chicken bones, crowded together, the spaces between them choked with brush and hung with streamers of bark. Grass and brush will catch fire more easily than a tree, Maloney says. In view of the large amount of eucalyptus trees present in arid areas, we focus in this study on the investigation of using eucalyptus biodiesel as fuel in diesel engine. Make eucalyptus tea with 1/4 tsp of dried, crumbled eucalyptus leaves in paper tea bags and infuse it in a cup of boiling water. They point me repeatedly to both the 1992 Oakland mayor’s task force report and a 2013 report by the U.S. Forest Service’s Adaptive Management Services Enterprise Team. We pass through the tunnel and drive into the hills. Many species of eucalyptus both tolerate fire, hiding from the flames behind thick bark, and depend on it to open their seed pods. At the same time, anyone who’s fought a fire in eucalyptus understands why they need to be thinned, he says—all vegetation will burn, that’s true. And then somehow—maybe a spark from a car, maybe a tossed cigarette—the whole dry, airy mess catches fire. We target brush.” He studied forestry and says he can understand the attachment people feel. The eucalyptus tree, native to Australia, and now common in other parts of the world, is an exotic-looking and aromatic tree. Last year, after a decade of planning and legal hurdles, the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved a $5.7 million fire prevention grant to UC Berkeley, the City of Oakland, and the East Bay Regional Park District—the major land managers in the hills area—to thin and remove trees and brush on 1,000 acres of ridgeline between Wildcat Canyon and Anthony Chabot regional parks; the park district will thin another 1,000 acres. Ignitability—how easily something catches fire—is a combined result of its architecture, chemistry, moisture content, and caloric values. According to a 2006 National Park Service study, that’s compared to California bay laurel trees, which average 18 tons per acre, and coast live oaks, which average just 11; an acre of grass, meanwhile, contains somewhere between one and four tons of plant material. As intriguing as the theory is, Bowman thinks it goes too far, failing the Occam’s-razor test: It’s simpler to imagine that eucalyptus evolved with oily leaves because those oils deter insects and koalas; they evolved peeling bark because the falling bark takes parasitic epiphytes with it; and the trees quickly resprout en masse after fire because they’ve evolved to tolerate fire, not to enjoy it. Gallup parks his truck and we get out to walk down the fire trail. It looks scrubby and multitextured compared to the stand of blue gum across the road. We target grass. We pass a man in an excavator stacking eucalyptus logs. 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. There, the debate isn’t over whether the trees are flammable, says David Bowman, a fire ecologist at the University of Tasmania, but about whether the trees have simply evolved to survive fire, or whether they actually promote fire as a way to snuff out competitors. Rice was a participant at the 1995 meeting. My third visit to Signpost 29 is with Jerry Kent. Others were concerned that the FEMA plan was cover for native species restoration advocates. Like the other Australian fire ecologists and eucalyptus experts I spoke with, though, Bowman called the genus in general, and blue gum in particular, extremely flammable. There’s no exact number.” When he starts a thinning project, he walks the grove and imagines how it might look without this or that tree, how the canopy would look, how it would look in a decade, in three decades. The original question—whether blue gums are uniquely, dangerously flammable—often serves as proxy to these other debates. The state’s first planting of eucalyptus was made by William G. Walker at his Golden Gate Nursery at Fourth and Folsom Streets, San … Several of the people I spoke with were worried about the use of herbicide as a way to keep the eucalyptus from resprouting. Native species and grasses produce sparks and firebrands too, Stephens says, but not of the same quantity and quality as eucalyptus. We walk uphill along Claremont Avenue, then hike up into the eucalyptus grove. 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. Depending on the type of wood and the conditions involved, a wood fire can begin to burn at approximately 300 degrees Fahrenheit, but full flames typically require a heat of 500 degrees Fahrenheit. More bark peels from the trunks and spills out from piles built up in the valleys between them. The natural detritus under the tree is resistant to microbial or fungal break down due to the oils. Although the view didn’t change, I saw something different each time through the eyes of the person I was with. But the thing that’s most concerning is the volume of material it can produce.” A tech entrepreneur, Grassetti lives in the hills near Claremont Canyon. Jack Gescheidt, a fervent euc-defender and photographer who makes pictures of nudes posing with trees, told me that he conducted an informal test, lighting both wet and dry leaves from blue gum and bay laurel trees over his stovetop. zachstgeorge.com. Its native decomposers are missing too, meaning fallen leaves and bark decay slower than usual; here, eucalyptus groves can accumulate 30 tons of debris or more per acre. Here, the debate about the flammability or fire danger of an entire forest is reduced to its smallest, most arcane variables, starting with leaf chemistry. A strong wind carries them throughout the surrounding area. The gums tower over us. Their concerns echoed some of those of the 13,000 people who wrote comments on the first draft of an environmental impact statement FEMA prepared ahead of the grant. The 1991 Tunnel Fire in the Oakland Hills, which killed 25 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes, confirmed for many people what they had long suspected: Eucalypts are a hazard. “This in here is a disaster waiting to happen,” he concludes. 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A UC press release stated that the fire hazard mitigation work in Strawberry and Claremont canyons “will be delayed for an indefinite period.”, Zach St. George, a freelance reporter in Baltimore, is the author of The Journeys of Trees: A Story About Forests, People, and the Future. Furthermore, the majority of the blue gum litter is small sticks, bark, and leaves, collectively known as “fine fuels.” These fine fuels are the source of a forest fire’s power, Sullivan says, easily ignited and quickly consumed. No wonder why the eucalyptus oil is also referred to as the “fever oil.” Eucalyptus Respiratory Healing Recipes. One bolt of lightning or a careless cigarette and the forest can easily become an inferno. We target brush.” Anonymous. To really know with scientific certainty, you’d have to compare fuel moisture content, wind speed, leaf chemistry, caloric content, and ignitability. A man in a hard hat and orange vest emerges from the bushes, then cuts through another tree. The wildfires that are now threatening Sydney and other parts of New South Wales, Australia, are finding fuel in Australia's eucalyptus forests, … But some of it burns better. “This one I made a promise to, that I was not going to let any harm come to it. The oil leaves a smoggy miasma hanging over the eucalyptus groves. When a tree dies, dozens of new ones appear. Omeo gum (Eucalyptus neglecta), which grows in USDA zones 7 through 11 from 40 to 60 feet tall, survives temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit. Near the crest of the hill, we come upon a large blue gum with seven boles. Now the flames on the ground are 30 feet high and even higher off the boughs, roaring like a jet engine. Eucalyptus firewood is known for burning very hot. -Brad Gallup, EBRPD fire captain. “I love eucalyptus,” Bowman says. A traditional aboriginal remedy, eucalyptus is a powerful antiseptic used all over the world for relieving coughs and colds, sore throats and other infections. Tucked away inside a rolled-up strip of bark, a fire might live for close to an hour and fly 20 miles. But even under the worst conditions, there is the possibility of containing a grass fire, he says. Along with the sweet medicine smell of the trees, there is the warm scent of sawdust and a sour hint of exhaust. The effects of prescribed burning on soil temperatures, loss of elements from combusted litter and understorey shrubs, the chemistry of surface soil and percolating soil solutions, and on the rate of decay of subsequent litterfall have been measured in a sub-alpine Eucalyptus pauciflora-E. dalrypleana forest in the Brindabella Ranges west of Canberra. The Properties of Eucalyptus Wood. In addition to his sunburn spray described above, Dr. Axe also provides a burn salve recipe for a remedy for burns that may progress past the simple sunburn. “Eucalyptus is flammable,” says Scott Stephens, a UC Berkeley fire ecologist. “Yes, there is some fuel here,” Grassetti says, then gestures to the head-high brush that surrounds us. On hot days in Tasmania and blue gum’s other native regions, eucalyptus oil vaporizes in the heat. Eucalyptus Oil and Fire. “For most eucalypts, fire was not a destroyer but a liberator,” writes fire ecologist Stephen Pyne in his book Burning Bush. “I love trees,” he says. It did not offer an explanation. Maloney is a retired firefighter. We walk back down the hill, sliding in the mud. He is persistently neutral: “Everybody’s right, everybody’s wrong,” he says at one point. By contrast, the trees would only need to be cleared and the stumps treated with herbicide once, he says. Now it is regrown with native willows, bays, oaks—the species that advocates of the FEMA plan insist will, with some human help, replace the eucalypts—as well as redwoods, nonnative thistle, fennel, and broom. This makes the tree’s oil a wonderful antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory, but the unbroken down material is like using kindling to start a fire.

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