1991 - Oakland Hills Fire
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On October 20th, 1991, a wildfire started at the wildland/urban interface near the high-priced homes above the cities California of Oakland and Berkeley. This fire quickly spread to the nearby houses, and before it could be stopped, it destroyed almost 2,550 single-family homes, and 37 apartment and condominium units, and soon became known as the Oakland Hills Fire.
One of the most deadly fires in recent history, 25 people were killed in the Oakland Hills Fire, including one police officer and one firefighter. This fire also caused an estimated $1.5 billion in direct damage and burned 1,600 acres, not including the loss of tax money for Oakland and the loss of the people who decided not to rebuild.
The Oakland Hills Fire spread so quickly because of the close proximity of the houses to dense vegetation. Many houses were up against eucalyptus and Monterey pine trees that had been dried by a five-year drought. Many of the houses were also not constructed safely, with untreated wood shingles and unprotected wood decks.
Weather was also a factor. October 20th was a hot day with low humidity and winds gusting to 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour), the perfect conditions for a catastrophic wildfire. The aforementioned drought and a December freeze that killed much of the vegetation (making it into very flammable fuel) only added to these dangerous conditions.
Because of the strong winds, the Oakland Hills Fire quickly grew into a firestorm (it became so large that strong winds were caused by the fire's intake of oxygen), and began to fling burning embers onto nearby homes. Within a few minutes of its ignition, the wildfire had already spread to the homes and surrounding vegetation. Its rapid spread and intensity made the fire impossible to contain, and it spread quickly-it burned 790 homes in the first hour alone.
Firefighters, quickly overwhelmed and surrounded by flames, were forced to go on the defensive. They did not have a chance to stop the fire's advance, or to protect the ground they were standing on. The narrow roads and 30-degree slope of much of the area made firefighting even more difficult.
Fortunately, the wind died down to 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour) that evening, giving firefighters the chance to contain the blaze. If the wind had not died down, it could have taken much longer, and destroyed many more homes.
The Oakland Hills Fire is the worst fire in California--so far. There is the potential in many other wildland/urban interface areas for even more destructive fires, both in California and many other states. It is important that people living in high- risk areas for catastrophic wildfires are informed about fire danger, and what they should do to prevent fires (see landscaping). It is the only way to avoid another fire like the Oakland Hills Fire.
For the 25 people that died as a result of the Oakland Hills Fire