Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hellacious Fire

As I mentioned yesterday, October in California can be hellacious! 
October 20, 1991 was hot and windy. Heat in October in California is usual,(today was 82 degrees) but the temperature in 1991 had reached into the nineties and it was just days until Halloween. By then our Bay Area usually has had a little bit of rain, some cooling fogs and dewy evenings but NOT that year. 
It was a Sunday, and I looked out our back window. What I could see, from twenty miles away was stunning- a huge black cloud spiraling upwards into the clear blue sky,almost like a   hydrogen bomb cloud. My blood ran cold as I caught my breath. I ran to the front of the house to see if it looked different from that view, but it was the same- a huge black cloud that was beginning to cover the sun. 

I began calling around-this was before the Internet- and soon found out that a fire had started in the Berkeley/Oakland hills and it was out of control. Now I was really scared. The population of Berkeley and Oakland is dense, the terrain steep and rugged. Plus Lil Mamma's  Big Daddy is a Berkeley Fireman. Not good. 

Reports on the radio were unreliable- we had hard that the Historic Claremont Hotel had burned to the ground, ( It hadn't) and that the fire would never leap the 8 lane freeway,( it did).

I heard from Big Daddy's wife, he was in the thick of it. I commiserated with her- and tried to not act afraid around Lil Mamma. I didn't want her to fret but I think she probably did. 

Because the houses were built on such steep terrain and were surrounded by thick brush they burned fast and furious. Because the roads were one lane and twisty, the fire trucks couldn't get in fast enough, the people couldn't get out fast fast enough...

The Oakland Hills Fire burned 3500 acres, 150 persons were injured, 25 people lost their lives, 750 homes were burned to the ground in the first hour alone. It took four days to contain the fire and in those days we heard stories of heroism and bravery  from the media. We were all riveted to our radios and tv's, waiting for the latest updates.

The hills are repopulated now, the brush that crowded around the houses and made them burn quickly has grown back again. I drive through the area and marvel that those people still want to live there, they still let the brush grow thick, that they all have such short memories. 

Big Daddy is still a Berkeley Fireman. He made it through without any visible scars. But like many of the service crews he still has nightmares about that hellish day. 


Mikey said...

I remember that fire. I was living in Willits then and it was such a big deal. Big rescues happening. They thought the whole city would burn (and it might have) God Bless all those firefighters for the HARD work they do. Fire is nothing to fool with.

Lil Mama said...

One of my good friends lived right in the thick of it too. They were evacuated. The houses on both sides of hers burned down but theirs made it. However the smoke damage was so bad that they had to pretty much redue the whole inside of their house.