Two Berkeley fires accompany string of wildfires in California

Wildfires_Courtesy_Lauren Ponisio
Lauren Ponisio/Courtesy

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Multiple fire departments were dispatched to two Berkeley fires last week — one in the Berkeley Hills and another in a building near a private residence.

More than 130 firefighters were called in response to the vegetation fire in the Berkeley Hills, which took place above Grizzly Peak Boulevard last Thursday. The Moraga-Orinda and Oakland fire departments were among the first to arrive on scene at about 4:29 p.m.

The fire burned through one acre of land before first-responders contained it half an hour later. Moraga-Orinda fire chief Stephen Healy said the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, and he added that there were no injuries reported by firefighters or civilians.  

Healy also noted that no property or infrastructure damage occurred because of the fire, as there were no structures in its path. Burning uphill from south to north, the fire was fueled by an abundance of dry brush.

“(The fire) was in steep rocky terrain with trees and brush,” Healy said. “It was burning uphill, so it was especially challenging for the firefighters. Fire travels four times faster uphill than downhill with no wind.”

The Berkeley Fire Department was also dispatched to a second fire at 2:18 a.m. Friday.

According to BFD deputy chief Donna McCracken, 18 firefighters responded to reports of flames in a three-story duplex behind a private residence at 2400 Roosevelt Ave. Only a single truck remained, however, after the six first-responders were able to extinguish the small fire inside the open space of a wall.

“There may have been a heat source in the area that ignited the inside of the wall,” McCracken said. “It was very small. Someone was able to extinguish it with a garden hose.”

The vegetation fire in the Berkeley Hills was part of a string of recent California wildfires, the largest of which was the Erskine fire in Kern County that resulted in two fatalities and 48,019 acres of burned land.

Scott Stephens — a campus professor in the department of environmental science, policy and management —  partially attributed the wildfires to low field-moisture resulting from the drought California has been experiencing for the past several years. He added that there has not been as much precipitation as one would expect in an El Nino year.

“Temperatures are going up and that means less snow in the mountains and potential for fires to move,” Stephens said. “Research points to increasing fire potential for the foreseeable future.”

Stephens called for increased restoration of native plant communities in response to the string of California wildfires and stressed the importance of a resilient ecosystem.

Contact Winston Cho at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @winstonscho.