Oakland Hills fire, tsunami warning make for eventful Tuesday

on September 29, 2009

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By S. Howard Bransford and Sam Laird/Oakland North

The apocalyptic End of Days it wasn’t, but Tuesday did bring some local intrigue on the natural disasters front.

On an afternoon that also saw the Bay Area slapped with a rare tsunami advisory, Oakland Hills residents got a brief scare before a wildfire was quickly brought under control near the site where the deadly Oakland firestorm began almost eighteen years ago.

Fire crews contained the Tuesday afternoon blaze in less than two hours after attacking the wildfire from the air and on the ground, local authorities reported.

The Oakland Fire Department dispatched a total of 28 people to the 30-acre fire, which burned on steep terrain at the eastern end of the Caldecott Tunnel, after receiving a call at 3:05 p.m., according to Battalion Chief Eleanor Bolin-Chew.

Oakland firefighters were later joined by several fire agencies, including the Orinda and Moraga Fire Departments, CalFire and East Bay Regional Parks crews.  The force, which included three helicopters and four air tankers, had the fire under control by 4:35, when Oakland fire fighters were released from duty, Bolin-Chew said.

“All the departments worked really, really well together,” Bolin-Chew said.

Bolin-Chew said she did not know of any residences that were evacuated as a result of the blaze.  The cause of the fire is still under investigation, she added.

Local fire jurisdictions, which each autumn work to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires in the Oakland hills, work hard to coordinate their fire-fighting efforts, Bolin-Chew said.

Although the fire was 100 percent contained as of Tuesday evening, Bolin-Chew said crews will continue monitoring the fire all night.

As a result of the 1991 firestorm, Oakland Hills residents know all to well the importance of monitoring thought-to-be-contained fires this time of year.  Oakland firefighters put out a small brush fire above the Caldecott Tunnel on October 19, 1991, only to see the fire reignite the following morning.  The resulting inferno raged over 1,600 acres for three days before it was contained, claiming 25 lives, more than 3,000 homes, and costing an estimated $1.5 billion in damages, according to East Bay Regional Parks District data.

Also Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service’s tsunami warning center issued an advisory across the West Coast after a magnitude-8.0 earthquake hit the Samoa Islands region in the South Pacific at about 11 a.m. Oakland time.

The National Weather Service warning says a tsunami could occur along the Bay Area’s coast beginning at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night, with the threat lasting several hours.  However, sea levels are only expected to rise between one and two feet in the area, meaning that, like the swiftly-aborted Tuesday afternoon Oakland Hills fire, the tsunami should not be perceived as a harbinger of the apocalypse. But keep the dry brush away from your roof anyway.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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