The Fire Next Time?

On this rainy weekend, we accompanied our youngest grandson to the Oakland Museum of California. It’s a great place to take a two year-old–lots of room to run around and look at stuff. I lost track of how many times I’d visited the museum with my own kids: years of school field trips, rainy day sessions, etc. The museum is always changing, though, and there were plenty of new things to see. Tucked away in a corner was an exhibit about the history of catastrophic fires in the East Bay cities of Oakland and Berkeley.

As anyone familiar with my posts and shameless plugs on social media is aware, I published a book this year about the 1991 Oakland/Berkeley hills fire. Seeing the exhibit today brought home how many times these hills and the surrounding areas have burned. There Was a Fire Here is my story, but clearly, there are many, many more–going back decades.

It may be hard to think about on a wet weekend like this one, but it’s a sobering thought: there will be a next time, probably in my lifetime. I’m sharing a couple of images here that illustrate how history has repeated itself. Going back to 1911, dates of fires are circled in red. Photographs or newspaper accounts are included for each time a fire burned in this area. Also noted for each fire: the time, wind direction or type (“diablo,” for example), temperature, damage (acres burned and homes lost), location, and cause.



And here is a map of where the fires burned, year by year.



Visitors are encouraged to share their stories about the fire, and the board is full of these notes. I added one later.



It’s worth a trip to see this exhibit, along with all the other current ones that continue to educate and inspire us.

Thanks to the Oakland Museum of California for providing three generations with a place to learn, reflect, and run around on a rainy day today.




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