Nothing, I hope, will ever impress me as much as the Oakland firrestorm of October 20, 1991. At its peak a house was blowing up ever four seconds. Hiller Highlands, a dome of land the looks straight west at San Francisco across the length of the Bay Bridge — one of the most desirable views in the entire world — was obliterated. The fire was so aggressive, so overwhelming, that at least one fire truck had to be abandoned. The fire lobbed so much burning debris in its path that it leaped over two highways — 24 and 13 — and the Temescal Reservoir, to bring devastation to Oakland’s Piedmont section as well.
Close to 4000 residences (including houses and apartments) were burned in that one, in an area not much more than a mile across. I was on the Palo Alto Red Cross board at the time, and among those brought in to check out the devastation a day or two after the fire was out. Houses were erased by it. Cars were melted into puddles. Square holes in concrete, with puddles of metal around them, marked where deck timbers had stood. For some of the dead, there was no sign. Heat at the center of the fire passed 6000°, several times that required for cremation.
I’ve written about this before. I’m writing about it again (and again) because the subject is, well, close to home for me. We were in the evacuation area for the Tea Fire in Santa Barbara last month, and thoughts about how close it came — for the whole city — still give me chills. I was reminded again of the devastation by this Gigapan photo from West Mountain Drive. And revisiting this remarkable Google Map by grizzlehizzle. If you want an example of citizen journalism at its best, this is one fine example — from somebody who declines to say who they are, exactly.