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Berkeley Talks: Jessica Morse on how we can live with fire

By Public Affairs

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A meadow of yellow wildflowers among the burnt trunks of trees
A high severity fire created this patch of wet meadow that is now filled with wild flowers.
UC Berkeley photo by Scott Stephens

In Berkeley Talks episode 176, Jessica Morse, the deputy secretary for forest and wildland resilience at the California Natural Resources Agency, discusses the current wildfire crisis in California and how we got here, strategies the state is implementing and lessons they’ve learned in order to decrease catastrophic wildfires and create more resilient forests.

Morse began her Nov. 4, 2022, lecture with a story about the Camp Fire, the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century that killed 85 people and destroyed more than 18,000 structures in Northern California.

“The story for me starts Nov. 8, 2018, almost four years ago to the day the Camp Fire broke out in Paradise,” began Morse. “I think all of us have some story of knowing where we were that day. It was a game-changer, in terms of the deadliest, most devastating fire we’ve seen in California history. I went up there a couple days later to go help out and volunteer with the relief efforts. And what I saw was striking: We had 54,000 people displaced in the blink of an eye. Most of the people, even a couple days after the fire, were still meandering around in pajama bottoms and slippers because they had fled from their homes from this fire that was moving so quickly.”

“It was a level of trauma in people that I had not seen firsthand since I had been in an active war zone in Iraq,” she continued. “And I thought, ‘This is my community. These are our neighbors. This is our state. How is this happening? And how did it get this bad? And what do we do about it?’

“And so, I dedicated then my time and energy, as well as many of you have, too, trying to solve and answer that question. And so, I joined the Newsom administration. The governor on day one, he declared an emergency on these fires so that we could start investing in the prevention work. And so, that’s what I’m going to tell you a lot about today, is how we’ve transformed and transitioned in California to the scale we’re at today.”

This talk was the Berkeley Rausser College of Natural Resources’ 2022 S.J. Hall Lecture in Industrial Forestry.

Listen to the full lecture in Berkeley Talks episode 176: “Jessica Morse on how we can live with fire.”

Watch a video of the lecture below.

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