Tuesday, October 20, 2015
The Oakland Hills Fire 24 Years Ago Today; A Personal Perspective
WON'T FORGET --24 years ago today--it was a Sunday Morning. It began like most October mornings but this day was different. A very unnerving autumn wind gusted out of sight in the Oakland Hills. It was not your normal wind. I had some misgivings right away.
For one, in mid morning at 10 I remember going outside (near the base of the Mormon Temple near Hwy. 13 --the Warren Freeway) and feeling the heat. It was brutal and dry heat, the sort of heat we're accustomed to in October, Bay Area summer.
I looked to the northeast of the sky--down near lower Montclair and saw the first hue of black smoke and heard a lot of fire engines. Instinctively I immediately put KGO Radio on (they were useful back then) and knew something was amiss when they broke into the 49ers pregame show. Later on the gravity of the Oakland Hills fire would be proof positive across the bay: embers from the blaze blew all the way to Candlestick Park and black smoke could soon be seen all over the entire Bay Area.
What would become sort of hell on Earth began in earnest: the fire was beginning to attack full frontal force. The sky looked like the surface of pictures of Jupiter. Cars were fleeing Montclair where I was near Mountain Blvd. The Caldecott tunnel was a no man's land. Sirens could be heard from all parts of the city. The acrid odor of smoke permeated the hills and a dread could be seen on everyone's faces. We all knew this was bad, just how bad remained to be seen. I was afraid. Not that I was personally in any danger , just that I knew this was going to be an historic day--all for the wrong reasons.
I mentioned the sky. I'll never forget how it looked. Like a scene from a movie. I mentioned Jupiter. You can add the caveat of a sky that had doomsday written all over it: red and orange hues everywhere. And the fire was still going even as dusk was looming.
News trucks lined almost all of Rockridge. The site of the Claremont Hotel sticking out from the ball of fire and smoke is an image that can't escape the mind. How the hell the Claremont survived I have no clue but it was amazing. A late sign of optimism amid the ruins of which they're were plenty.
Broadway Terrace was a mess. So too was the Caldecott area near Lake Temescal which the Oakland Fire Dept and assisting out-of-town fire fighters used as a staging ground to dump water over the blaze which was so powerful it burned out of sight. Never forget it.
As dusk was nearing a smidgen of cooler air was felt. The fire was beginning to lose its oxygen --thank God.
News crews live shots up and down Broadway Terrace. KTVU's Betty Ann Bruno, like thousands of others, lost her home in Upper Rockridge. We didn't know at the time 24 people had lost their lives.
October 20, 1991--We will never forget.