OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The San Francisco Bay Area was on the eve of another Red Flag Fire Warning Tuesday, but the thoughts of Oakland firefighters were on another time, another day of fire, that took 25 lives in the hills near the Caldecott Tunnel.
On the 29th anniversary of the the deadly 1991 Oakland Hills Firestorm, Interim Oakland Fire Chief Melinda Drayton said Oct. 20 will be a date those who fought the fire, survived the blaze or lost their homes or loved ones to the flames, will never forget.READ MORE: 'Highway Slingshot Shooter' Fires Ball Bearings at Windows Along San Jose's Guadalupe Freeway
“While many years have passed since the devastating firestorm raged through the hills in October 1991, for the Oakland firefighters who fought the fire, residents who lost homes, and the those who returned to rebuild, the memories are vivid and still evoke strong emotion,” she said.
“The firestorm burned for three long days, killed 25 people, and destroyed 3,354 homes, of which all but 63 were in Oakland. Among those who died honorably were Oakland Police Officer John Grubensky and Oakland Fire Battalion Chief James Riley, who were helping people evacuate.”READ MORE: 3 East Bay School Districts Go All-In on Student Vaccine Mandates
Drayton said the blaze helped usher in an era of wildland-urban interface fires in major California cities.
“On this anniversary, I want to offer a special thank you to all of the dedicated community organizations and neighborhood groups – many of which are based in the high fire hazard severity zone – that have made it their mission to promote and inform residents on the very real threat that wildfire poses,” she said. “They have been on the front lines promoting our annual vegetation inspection program, led community preparedness and emergency response trainings, and continue to provide informed recommendations to city leaders about the need for greater alignment and focus in wildfire prevention.”
Drayton also reflected on the personal toll the blaze took on her family.MORE NEWS: State-of-the-Art Water Purification Plant Helps Silicon Valley Battle Drought
“As a 22 year veteran of Oakland Fire, and someone whose family home burned down in the hills fire, I extend my condolences to those who lost loved ones,” she said. “And a heartfelt appreciation to all the past and present Oakland Firefighters who fought the ’91 fire, as well as the many first responders and volunteers who sacrificed so much to keep our residents safe during that frightening time in our city’s history.”