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mtb'er
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If you were caught up in it or affected by it, what's your story?

My story is I was driving to Orinda from SF that morning... as I crossed the Bay Bridge, I noticed the smoke near the top of the Berkeley hills, well in front of me. As I continued to drive towards the Caldecott Tunnel, the fire was really growing FAST! (Shoot.. I'm gonna go right through this!) I'm on 24 (eastbound) a little past Lake Temescal and the hillside (Hiller Highlands) to my left is now a raging fire, right down to Hwy 24... traffic is going about 3mph... I feel real heat on my driver's side window. 馃槸

I... just... want... to...get... to/thru... the Caldecott Tunnel. Just short of the tunnel, it turns out the tunnel is CLOSED!!! WTF!! I/we were forced to exit Broadway(?) and head towards Hwy 13... but MAN! TRAFFIC WAS CRAWLING AND EVERYTHING ON EACH SIDE OF THE ROAD WAS RED AND BURNING AND THE EMBERS WERE BLOWING CRAZY... the road was red with embers. Everything was red and burning around me. I figure one ember in my tailpipe and I'm dead.

Somehow, traffic didn't completely stop and I was able to get on Hwy 13 south. I knew the backroads to Moraga & Orinda and sped home to prepare for the worst. Fortunately, nothing crossed the Berkeley/Oakland hills ridgeline.

RIP Dr. Loggins and all those who died that terrible day.


Newspaper Cloud Publication News Font
 

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Crap, I am getting old. Lived in Pleasant Hill, my then girlfriend, later wife, now ex wife, lived in Lafayette on the Orinda border. We were really wondering if it was going to run over the hill and into Orinda.

My next door neighbor is a retired Oakland fire captain, and was one of the first units on the scene. He said the firestorm was a series of errors that never should have happened. There was a small brush fire the day before the firestorm started. The crew charged with cleanup and ensuring it was out was headed by a captain that was questionably competent. According to my neighbor, they left the scene before the hot spots were fully extinguished. There is apparently a news report from that day where they interviewed that captain who was still there at the time and you could see there were spots still smoldering.

So according to my neighbor, when the call came in, it was rush hour. Oakland fire protocol at the time was that units dispatched to that area were to take highway 24, through the tunnel, go up Fish Ranch and then lateral across. He said that he and another unit went up through the backroads instead and got to the fire about 30 minutes prior to the units that went through the tunnel. Unfortunately, accordingly to him, by the time the other units got there they were already over run and it was out of control. He said the next three days were hell with a lot of people dying because of the traffic and waiting too long to leave.
 

Paper or plastic?
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Quite the story E.B. I wasn't around here during the fire, but I was here for the earthquake in 32 years ago. Damn, where did the time go?
 

Freezer
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I was in grad school at Cal, living on Broadway Terrace next to the Claremont Country Club. As the fire approached the eastern edge of the club, the huge eucalyptus trees would get superheated and the oil would vaporize creating a mirage effect/schlieren above the trees. When the vaporized oil ignited, it went off like a bomb with a huge concussion and burned out all the leaves immediately. Pretty spectacular. When we got evacuated in the early afternoon, I drove west down University and remember looking in my rear view mirror at a twilight sky with black clouds and flames that looked like the apocolypse. Memorable image.
 

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I was drinking beers with friends on top of a building in the Western Addition, looking across the bay at the smoke plume.

I remember a friend playing guitar and improvising a song "oakland is burning and there's nothing we can do"
 

Nature Rider, Not MTBer
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The first 2 houses I lived in as a kid got burnt up in that fire. There had been an earlier fire in the '70s that stopped right next door (house next door burned, ours didn't) that caused us to nope outta those hills, so my parents weren't living there during the big firestorm.

I was living on the east coast, watching football on tv when it happened. John Madden telestrated the fire, including drawing arrows pointing towards his house beyond the hills. That gave me an "Oh, ****" and I tried to call my parents. Ash rained down on them, but they were fine.

The first house I lived in as a kid was 700sf and on a dirt road. Lots of wildlife. It was weird to see it replaced with a giant 4000+ sf mansion thingy when the rebuilding happened years later.
 

Paper or plastic?
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The first 2 houses I lived in as a kid got burnt up in that fire. There had been an earlier fire in the '70s that stopped right next door (house next door burned, ours didn't) that caused us to nope outta those hills, so my parents weren't living there during the big firestorm.

I was living on the east coast, watching football on tv when it happened. John Madden telestrated the fire, including drawing arrows pointing towards his house beyond the hills. That gave me an "Oh, ****" and I tried to call my parents. Ash rained down on them, but they were fine.

The first house I lived in as a kid was 700sf and on a dirt road. Lots of wildlife. It was weird to see it replaced with a giant 4000+ sf mansion thingy when the rebuilding happened years later.
I have a friend who used to live in the hills in Berkeley in the mid 90s. The first few years we went to visit him, we'd be driving through construction zone. Houses were being rebuilt everywhere.
 

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Talentless dirt-roadie
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I was a grad student just finishing up at Berkeley when this happened. Some friends were watching the fire from their house and suddenly it arrived and they only had time to grab the dog and flee. A number of people got trapped in that apartment building at the base of Tunnel Road.

I remember thinking I would go for a ride on Grizzly Peak that day, but I got a late start, and suddenly realized what was going on.
 

Uncle
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Well... okay, here it goes:
Oct 20th, 1991
Mid-afternoon I drove my packed car through the Caldecott tunnel, headed towards the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. It was my first time at the venue, and we were there to see Anthrax, Public Enemy and Primus. We got there in time to get a wristband, which meant the inner pit area - no seats, just lots of room to mosh. I was 20 and had my younger brother and a few of his friends along, as well as a few of mine. After Young Black Teenagers opened the show, Primus came out and immediately started thumping away, and the energy went through the roof. Everyone was moving, and we were enjoying a bit of a smaller circular swirl pit when I looked up and realized that there was another of similar size and energy just about 7 people's thickness away. With a few others looped in, we crashed through the human barrier to create a giant oval pit with room to get a lot of speed, and that tsunami lasted the entire show.

Late in the Primus set, it became clear that there were a set of enormous twins that were there for nefarious reasons. Both had their shirts wound around their fists, and they were swimming up stream, cold clocking people at speed. A few of us decided to take the trash out, and we did the old "crouch behind and knock 'em down" trick. Bam, had both brothers flat on their back for a moment, hoping they'd learned to play a bit nicer. Instead, one got up infuriated, and grabbed my little (literally) brother's 130lb friend and took him to the ground. As several us moved in to wrangle this beast, an older man quickly split right between us, grabbed the giant from behind in a bear hug, and led him to the exit. Just after, we shook his hand and thanked Bill Graham for so quickly coming to the aid of our small friend. He said it was his pleasure, and that he hoped we were enjoying the show. And we did. It was my only time seeing Anthrax live, so I don't have much to gauge with there, but Primus and Public Enemy always deliver, and seeing all three together at the end of the show doing "Bring the Noise" was special. Unfortunately, Bill Graham died in a helicopter crash just a few nights later. My younger brother worked at The Punchline comedy club in Walnut Creek, which was owned &/or run by GBP (Bill Graham Presents), so it seemed noteworthy that my brother had met his top boss in a most unusual way, just a few days before his passing.

Some time around midnight, we left the venue to head back to Concord. It didn't take long to notice the skyline glowing in the distance, and we knew something big was happening. By that point, traffic had been diverted from the Caldecott for several hours at least, and so we detoured "up" 580 through Berkeley all the way to Highway 4, and east from there. The trip took about 3 hours, and we landed home in Concord at about 3:15am.

Half awake and soaked richly in the fragrance of humanity, my brother and I entered our home to find it jam packed with stuff: Lots of boxes, large furniture, a few energetic dogs(?!). "WTF?" It looked as if someone had moved in before someone else had moved out. And that's exactly what happened. It turned out that my dad's coworker lived just above Hwy 13 on Taurus Rd(?), and they had spent much of the day and night making trips - three total - to her place to gather belongings. They were planning a fourth trip but ran out of time - the fire had consumed her home and the home her father owned on the adjacent lot.

As it turns out, she and my father had been dating for a bit prior to the fire, and he insisted that she move in temporarily while she could figure out her future. She never left, and they married a few years later. My stepmother never rebuilt her home, and still lives with my father in the home I grew up in.

Also, "Plim!!!"
 

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Pretty crazy. I remember when it started to look bad I drove from Sebastopol to my childhood home in the Crestmont area where my mom still lived. I blew by parades of fire trucks from Sonoma/ marin county heading there, pretty much had the toyota truck pinned all the way. At some point along 580 I needed head lights. I stopped at my sister's house off Park Blvd. and they were packing up. I went to my mom's and that evening we packed up stuff in my truck ready to leave. Looking back it was quite the bonding moment for us.
We could see the glow over the back hill of the house. Had the windows open while sleeping on the couch and the wind kicked up. It was impossible to get info at 2 am tv and radio were all there was at the time.
The fire never made it that far and by Monday morning the winds quit. I drove towards Montclair and found parked cars lining Mountain blvd . It was crazy smoky.

In 2017, I got to re live that all over in the Tubbs fire now that I live in santa rosa.

The Oakland fire was like the first major fire to burn over 2000 homes. Now that seems small by Tubbs, Camp fire ......

So glad it's raining up here now.

Peace,
J
 

Log off and go ride!
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At the same time that fire was burning, another one was burning in Feather River Canyon near Oroville. This one was smaller, not threatening homes, so no news broadcasts mentioned it. I was on that one.
A fellow firefighter was flying Air Attack over this fire. This fire was caught, aircraft released to go to Oakland, and was in the mop up stage. Air attack was just flying circles over this fire. Bored, he started listening to the Air-to-Air frequency on the Oakland Fire. This is the frequency air attack and the air tankers uses for communication, and is not used by ground troops. Most people do not even know aircraft have their own discreet frequency and few hobbyists listen on their scanners.
Our air attack started listening, and started recording the Oakland air attack instructions to the air tankers.
We worked out of the same station, and I listened to the recording later. It was heavy to jargon, of course, but I understood what was going on. At the end of the recording we looked at each other and said the public and politicians would sh!t bricks if they knew what was really going on in the airspace above that fire.
I cannot recall the exact conversations now, but bits and pieces still stand out. At one point, the Air Attack told an air tanker
AA: "That last line [of retardant] did not hold. Drop down two blocks and start a new line".
Tanker "The blue house at the corner?"
AA: "No. The green house, next block downhill. Everything above that can't be saved."
Tanker: "Roger"

They were sacrificing two and three entire blocks of homes at a time. Just to get far enough ahead to complete the retardant line before the fire got there.

IIRC the recording was used for a while for the Air Attack training course for new Air Attack Supervisors. Trainees were told if you are not willing to make the tough calls about deciding which homes to sacrifice to save others, then being an Air Attack Supervisor may not be for you.
 

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At the same time that fire was burning, another one was burning in Feather River Canyon near Oroville. This one was smaller, not threatening homes, so no news broadcasts mentioned it. I was on that one.
A fellow firefighter was flying Air Attack over this fire. This fire was caught, aircraft released to go to Oakland, and was in the mop up stage. Air attack was just flying circles over this fire. Bored, he started listening to the Air-to-Air frequency on the Oakland Fire. This is the frequency air attack and the air tankers uses for communication, and is not used by ground troops. Most people do not even know aircraft have their own discreet frequency and few hobbyists listen on their scanners.
Our air attack started listening, and started recording the Oakland air attack instructions to the air tankers.
We worked out of the same station, and I listened to the recording later. It was heavy to jargon, of course, but I understood what was going on. At the end of the recording we looked at each other and said the public and politicians would sh!t bricks if they knew what was really going on in the airspace above that fire.
I cannot recall the exact conversations now, but bits and pieces still stand out. At one point, the Air Attack told an air tanker
AA: "That last line [of retardant] did not hold. Drop down two blocks and start a new line".
Tanker "The blue house at the corner?"
AA: "No. The green house, next block downhill. Everything above that can't be saved."
Tanker: "Roger"

They were sacrificing two and three entire blocks of homes at a time. Just to get far enough ahead to complete the retardant line before the fire got there.

IIRC the recording was used for a while for the Air Attack training course for new Air Attack Supervisors. Trainees were told if you are not willing to make the tough calls about deciding which homes to sacrifice to save others, then being an Air Attack Supervisor may not be for you.
As I recall, it was the first use of air tankers in residential areas. Now it seems almost routine.
J
 
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