Featured Fuels Project

Project Name

Lick Observatory Wildfire Hazard Reduction Project




University of California


FEMA - through the California Office of Emergency Services

Project Location

Mount Hamilton, Santa Clara County, Ca. See Map

Type of Project

Wildfire Hazard Reduction


Wildland areas surrounding observatory facilities on Mt. Hamilton have a history of frequent and extensive wildfires. A 2005 hazard assessment by NorthTree Fire determined that the observatory complex was at substantial risk of destruction by wildfire.

Project Objectives

Proven Results

View project map/poster.
Interactive Project Map/Poster.


Before and after photos of this project.
NorthTree Firefighters burning brush piles at Mount Hamilton.

Interactive Aerial Panoramas of Mount Hamilton after brushcutting work.

View from Northwest
View from South

Project Scoping, Grant Writing, and Implementation by Northtree Fire

In January 2005, the University of California secured the services of NorthTree Fire to prepare a wildfire hazard and fire suppression capability assessment, and to make recommendations regarding types of fuel reduction needed to mitigate expected wildfire behavior at Lick Observatory. NorthTree mapped existing vegetation, recommended and mapped vegetation thinning units, and developed cost estimates for performing the fuel reduction work. What follows is a description of methods used for the hazard assessment and project design.

Site visits were conducted at Mount Hamilton. During these visits, all buildings with an exposure to wildfire were visited. Field observations were recorded and project areas were established. The final site visit was made with Barry Callenberger - retired Chief of Fuels Management and Prescribed Fire for the Pacific Southwest Region of the USDA Forest Service. Mr. Callenberger made professional estimates of potential fire behavior for the various fuel types present, and recommended minor changes to the working project boundaries - these were incorporated into digital mapping of project areas.

Oblique aerial photography was conducted by NTFI staff. These images were enhanced digitally, and used to delineate and estimate work needed for each thinning job. High-resolution digital color orthophotography was used to digitize project boundaries along and offset from existing roads. Additionally, this imagery was used in an classification of vegetation density. Vegetation density values were summarized along with slope classes from Digital Elevation Models for each thinning job to assign job-difficulty rankings for the cost estimate.

Interviews with facility staff were used to establish estimates of regrowth on past fuelbreak thinning projects, and analysis of existing facility CAD mapping was used to assess access, water sources, and potential safety zones during a wildfire event.

Mapping of predicted fire behavior for areas adjacent to Mt. Hamilton Facilities, mapping of proposed fuel hazard mitigation projects, implementation cost estimates, and a completed Benfit Cost Analysis (BCA) in FEMA's standard format were used in a successful FEMA Predisaster Mitigation (PDM) grant application.

Following grant award and completion of CEQA assessment work, NorthTree Fire provided personnel and equipment to complete all recommended hazardous fuel reduction work.

Fuels Project Manager

Layne Pauly
1.800.FIRE.OUT / dispatch