By Wilson Walker

BERKELEY (BCN/KPIX) — This fire season, the Berkeley Fire department wants residents in the hills to start thinking about the risk and when it might be better to leave before an evacuation order, even before a fire even starts.

“What we are asking the public to do is to consider relocating, because it gives them a lot more choices of where they go, how they go, and being able to get out of the hills in particular,” says Keith May of the Berkeley Fire Department.

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City officials encourage residents to sign up for emergency notifications, look up their evacuation zone and to make plans to leave when warnings are issued.

The areas of the city at greatest risk, officials said, are in fire zones 2 and 3 that are close to regional parklands in the hills on the eastern edge of the city, just north of state Highway 24 and stretching to the northern and eastern border with Contra Costa County.

A map of the area showing the fire zones is available here.

City officials said the evolving fire threat demands a different type of response.

“Severe fire weather conditions are now more common and as a result, so are catastrophic wind-driven fires,” according to the news release.

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The Berkeley Fire Department has identified the types of very dry, windy conditions that create “Extreme Fire Weather” and compiled a chart and a video to help residents understand.

“Right on,” says Sue Piper of the Fire Safe Council. “That’s exactly what they should be saying. In fact, I heard the fire chief in Berkeley say that about two years ago. Oakland is now saying it too.”

Piper lost her home in the 1991 fire. She says if it hadn’t been for someone directing traffic the right direction she would not have survived. She and many others have long felt the stage is set for another catastrophe.

“A recent study at UC Berkeley using 1991 data, and applying it to the Berkeley hills, said it would take two hours for people to get off the hill safely,” Piper says. “We don’t have two hours.”

Wilson Walker contributed to this report.

 

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