Grizzly Peak and ridge fire potential, by Jerry Kent

The large arrows emanating from the site of the Grizzly Fire represent Diablo wind conditions (strong, gusting winds from the north and northeast) that were present during the 1991 firestorm. The small arrow represents the normal off-shore winds from the west, southwest that were present on August 2. Map source is Google Maps.

The large arrows emanating from the site of the Grizzly Fire represent Diablo wind conditions (strong, gusting winds from the north and northeast) that were present during the 1991 firestorm. The small arrow represents the normal off-shore winds from the west, southwest that were present on August 2. Map source is Google Maps.

The August 2 fire known as the “Grizzly Fire” was sending up bright flames at about 1:05 PM, as reported by firefighters from the East Bay Regional Park District’s Tilden Park Fire Station, the first crew to arrive on the scene. Winds that day were calm from the west and the weather was moderate. Firefighters were able to drive to the location along Grizzly Peak Blvd between UC’s Signposts 14 and 15 and easily stage their firefighting equipment. Nonetheless, by the end of the day, there were as many as 200 firefighters, 50 fire trucks and support vehicles, and a multitude of aircraft providing up to 200 helicopter and fixed wing water and retardant drops, in order to contain the 20-acre fire. This massive response indicates that all agencies are now acutely aware of the extreme fire hazard potential in the hills, even under optimal firefighting conditions. We applaud the firefighters from several agencies who sprang into action and extinguished the fire before it could spread further.

If this fire, which had been set by an arsonist, had been accompanied by a Diablo wind (such as that which fueled and spread the 1991 Oakland/Berkeley firestorm), firefighters would have been chasing fire into dense eucalyptus, pine, and shrub lands with hot embers blowing 1/2 mile or more into steep and largely inaccessible Strawberry and Claremont Canyons. With the potential of 150-foot flames and rapid spread, firefighters would not risk venturing into these steep canyons. Their only chance for a containment would be in residential areas along roads, such as upper Claremont Avenue, or even further into the cities of Oakland and Berkeley.

The Grizzly Fire started in the very area where FEMA withdrew UC’s grant, which would have

 paid for fire hazard mitigation measures to remove fire-prone eucalyptus and pine while reestablishing lower-growing and less flammable native oaks, bays, and shrubs. Native trees are already present in varying degrees under the over-topping eucalyptus and pine forests that resprouted after the 1972 freeze and subsequent logging.

Grant funds were yanked away last year behind closed doors in a legal settlement—after 10-years of environmental review since the grants were awarded in 2006. The Conservancy supports UC’s suit to overturn FEMA’s withdrawal of funding and will continue to work with the University, the Park District, the City of Oakland, and East Bay MUD to get more fire prevention work done on lands owned by these agencies, especially along ridgelines and steep hillsides.