OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Long-time residents of the Oakland-Berkeley hills are well aware how fast an out-of-control wildfire can overwhelm the normal escape routes from a fire’s deadly and fast-moving flames.
During the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley hills firestorm, most of the 25 for died perished on steep, narrow, twisting roads. Many of those victims were killed in their cars when the fire overwhelmed traffic-clogged Charing Cross Road.
So on Sunday, a group of volunteers set out to make possible emergency escape routes. When the twisting, winding streets of the Berkeley hills were laid out in the early 1900’s, when most people caught trolley cars to work, a series of 136 footpaths were created to serve as direct short cuts down the hills.
“It was seen as a selling point that even though you were way up in the hills, you could get very quickly down to get the street car,” said Colleen Neff, the president of the Berkeley Path Wanderers Assn. “Imagine with an emergency, possibly at night, with smoke … people a little bit in a panic…the paths are gonna be your best way down…on foot.”
Members of the Berkeley Path Wanderers gathered to walk all the pathways in a single day on Sunday, accessing their condition and take notes in case they are ever needed as emergency evacuation routes.
“Is the handrail the whole length of the path or is it just partial? And where is it? Is it in the middle or is it on the side of the path?”
The volunteers took notes on how well the pathways were marked and noting locations of broken concrete or low-hanging vegetation. The idea was to gather enough information to create an evacuation plan for the residents.
Danny Levie lives on a Berkeley hills street that’s a tight fit for a Prius, let alone a fire engine. He realizes what would happen if a major fire broke out here.
“I’ve never really thought about what would happen if everybody was trying to leave at the same time,” he told KPIX 5. “If we needed to leave, we’d be on foot … If everybody tried to leave in their cars it just wouldn’t work.”