Video recorded by a Berkeley Fire Department strike team responding to the North Bay wildfires shows firsthand how quickly the fire moved and how intense the flames were.
At 5 a.m. last Monday, firefighter Mike Shuken was on Berkeley Fire Department Engine 6 and racing for Santa Rosa. The crew was headed for what they thought was a grass fire. But as they hit the city limit, reality started to set in.
"It was one of those, 'I can't believe this is happening,'" Shuken said.
The Berkeley firefighters were told to stage at a Kmart store and wait for assignment. When they arrived the building was engulfed in flames.
Fire then beat the crew to their second spot, a neighboring gas station.
"The different areas that we arrived at were being eliminated as safe areas for staging, so we kept pushing forward," Shuken said.
The firefighters then found themselves in Santa Rosa's Coffey Park neighborhood, already unrecognizable, as fire had wiped out entire blocks.
"We weren't even sure what we were looking at," Shuken said. "Hundreds and hundreds of homes that burned down."
With fire burning all around them, they were finally able to make a stand on the 1800 block of Towhee Street.
Shuken thinks they managed to save roughly 30 homes, but also learned that one of the hundreds lost belonged to a fellow Berkeley firefighter.
Shuken said the video he recorded will not only help other agencies in their response to a natural disaster, but also show the rest of us what it was like on the frontlines of the devastating fire.