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Officials prepare for a hot fire season

By Kurtis Alexander Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday June 11, 2002

Another day of warm weather and high winds elevated fire danger to its highest point of the year Monday — a level experts say is unusual for the month of June. 

“Unless the weather turns around quickly, we’re going to be in trouble early,” said Berkeley’s Assistant Fire Chief David Orth, noting that by August, East Bay residents could see wildfires more typical of September and October. This means a longer and potentially more dangerous fire season, he said. 

A state-issued Red Flag Warning went into effect for Alameda County Monday. This was the second high-danger warning of the year following Friday’s designation. 

Fire officials responded by shutting down several acres of park land in the East Bay Hills, where the threat was greatest.  

The backcountry of Berkeley’s Tilden Park was included in the closure. 

“And we can expect high fire danger for another couple of days,” said Ned MacKay of the East Bay Regional Parks District. Forecasts call for weakening winds and low humidity.  

Berkeley’s fire concerns are fueled by a rash of wildfires burning across the state and the nation. On the southwestern edge of Denver, a 61,000-acre blaze forced the evacuation of 40,000 people yesterday, and in California, thousands of residents fled homes because of fires from Yuba County to the outskirts of Los Angeles. 

“Activity in Colorado means less resources here should we have a local fire break out,” Chief Orth said. 

Two helicopters from the East Bay Regional Parks District hovered over the East Bay hills yesterday, keeping an eye out for flames. The Berkeley Fire Department called additional staff to conduct engine patrols. On the UC Berkeley campus, student groups policed wildlands. 

“The students can detect an ignition early,” said director of emergency planning with the UC Police Department Tom Klatt. “We depend on them.” 

East Bay fire officials say they are prepared for the hazards that a bad fire season presents – at least more prepared than they were in 1991 when the Oakland hills fire raged, killing 25 people and burning 3,000 buildings. 

“If there’s an ignition, 20 to 30 fire engines start rolling,” Orth said. “(Before) 1991, it was one.”  

The Hills Emergency Forum was born out of the 1991 disaster – adding tools to East Bay fire caches, standardizing equipment among agencies, and coordinating response protocols – promises greater security in the event of future fire, officials said. 


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