Town Crier: What are your memories of 1991 Oakland hills firestorm?


Two residents engage in a vain attempt to save a home on Contra Costa Road as a wall of fame sweeps toward them from Lake Temescal during the firestorm in Oakland, Calif. Sunday Oct. 20, 1991. (Karl Mondon/Staff) NOTE: Scans made from negatives in 2011 for 20th anniversary project.

MONTCLARION: October 6, 2016

Where were you on Oct. 20, 1991, when the firestorm ravaged the Oakland hills? If you lived here, you most surely remember the day — even if you’d like to forget it.

The worst urban fire in U.S. history left 25 dead, 150 injured and destroyed more than 3,000 homes. Our house survived, but the smoke was so thick that we spent several nights in a hotel.

Some of my friends were on roofs that day, wetting down houses to save them. A few formed a brigade to help overwhelmed firefighters in an effort to harness a monster. They are the heroes of this tragic event.

I remember watching the coverage in the clubhouse at the Minneapolis Metrodome, where the Minnesota Twins were playing in game two of the World Series. Former Oakland A’s Manager Tony La Russa made the comment that he was heading home early — and he lived outside the fire area in Walnut Creek. That’s when the gravity of the situation hit me.

Dread set in. I couldn’t reach my husband and daughter. I didn’t know where they were and no one was answering the home phone. Finally my husband called to say that he’d driven to a friend’s house in San Leandro. The godparents had rescued our cat.

What are your memories of the firestorm? If you suffered losses, you may still be grieving. A number of events are being held this month to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the catastrophe.

The city of Oakland has the list at

Book it: Speaking of milestones, 2017 is the 140th anniversary of the birth of beloved author Jack London. Here’s a book club assignment for you: reread “White Fang” and come to the discussion at the Montclair Branch Library at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18. (

Email bag: Mike Harcourt is one of several readers who’ve weighed in on a local landmark. “For quite a while, the neglected Short Line Pocket Park at Montclair’s northern entrance has come off as a detraction to our community, rather than an attraction,” he writes, adding he’s grateful the Montclair Hillside Gardeners are taking over the maintenance. Harcourt would like to see the signage changed, though — saying the current sign is overwhelming for such a small space.


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