Tree specialist Chris Klingle said the spate of recent fires has put many property owners on the defensive. He said he’s encountering more people who are proactive about preparing the area around their homes against future fires. And the recent CZU Lightning Complex fire has created a new vigilance.
“People are way more aware of this fire danger,” Klingle said. “Now there are a lot of people looking into it, thinking ‘I think we should do this,’ compared to five years ago when people didn’t want to cut brush back because there was no scare.”
Klingle, a third-generation arborist, has been working with trees for more than 25 years. He is a certified heavy equipment operator and hazardous tree climber for Brush Hog Tree Care, a local tree-trimming company that specializes in the buffer zone that helps slow and stop fires called the “defensible space.”
Since the August fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the company has been overloaded with calls from customers desperate to keep their homes safe.
Krystle Reneer, company manager for Brush Hog Tree Care, interacts with customers the most, from their first call to the on-site cost estimate. She said more property owners are calling because they know they need to create the defensible space but lack the money to pay for the service. She said this is especially true in the more remote areas of the Coastside where homes are surrounded by forests and where the company has the specialized equipment to do large-scale fuel management. That includes a newer land-clearing machine called a forest masticator that is not widely available in the region.
Recently, the company has been asked to help at Butano State Park, where the CZU fire has removed much of the ground layer that helps hold trees and soil in place, putting the area at risk of landslides.
Reneer is prioritizing these urgent projects, but it comes at the cost of keeping appointments for other jobs that are relatively small but still necessary in preventing fires. These are jobs like basic ground clearing, from removing dry vegetation to trimming a low-hanging branch.
Forty percent of the requests Brush Hog Tree Care receives are for smaller jobs, and Reneer would like to see more of them redirected to smaller tree-trimming companies.
“We like to share the wealth, especially being this busy, and especially to get more people to work,” she said.
Reneer sees the solutions coming through the county. For about two years, Brush Hog Tree Care has been sending representatives to attend San Mateo County’s Fire Safe Council monthly meetings.
This year, the Fire Safe Council has been running a free neighborhood chipper program based on a “you cut, we chip model,” where homeowners consolidate their cut vegetation into a single pile, which a crew then turns into chips.
But there aren’t programs that offset the cost of cutting and clearing brush on-site. And there are no trainings on defensible space management specifically for tree-trimming companies.