Brush Fire in Oakland Hills Causes Power Outage, Evacuations at UC Berkeley

Inmate firefighter injured in fall, transported to hospital

A five-alarm brush fire burned in the Oakland Hills on Wednesday, prompting a power outage and evacuations at UC Berkeley, officials said.

The blaze, which was reported at about 1 p.m., grew from 3 to 10 and then 20 acres in the vicinity of Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Fish Ranch Road. About half of the fire was within the Oakland city limits in the hills, and the other half is on land owned by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Oakland fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton said.

Amid sweltering heat on Wednesday afternoon, flames lapped up the dry hillside and jumped a road before continuing their run. Firefighters tried desperately to contain the fire, but their main stumbling block is the northeast section of the fire area on Grizzly Peak.

"It's steep terrain and a lot of heavy vegetation so we're getting some spotting on the back side," Moraga-Orinda Fire District Fire Chief Stephen Healy said.

Some 200 firefighters from Oakland, Berkeley, the East Bay Regional Park District, Cal Fire, Moraga-Orinda and El Cerrito have been battling the blaze, both from the ground and the air. Choppers and planes have been pounding the blaze on the rugged hillside with water and retardant.

Firefighters will remain at the scene throughout the night and all day Thursday if necessary in order to monitor hot spots.

Drayton said weather conditions for firefighters are expected to improve late Wednesday because fog is forecasted to roll in around sunset and relative humidity will rise.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, and people have been asked to avoid the area where some roads are closed. 

No structures were threatened, but the Orinda Police Department urged residents to shelter in place.

An inmate firefighter was injured after he fell about 50 feet down a steep hillside, fire officials said. He was rescued by other firefighters and transported to a hospital. The extent of his injuries was unknown.

As the fire spread through the hills, PG&E shut down transformers at UC Berkeley, prompting a campus-wide power outage. Police advised people at the university to shut down all electronic devices by 2:40 p.m. and not to use elevators until power is restored.

University police said a number of roads east of the main campus have been shut down because of the fire as has the Botanical Garden at 200 Centennial Drive.

Authorities have also recommended evacuations at the Lawrence Hall of Science, Mathematical Sciences Research Institute and Space Sciences Laboratory.

Meanwhile, city officials said that although the flames are roughly a mile away from the Berkeley border and heading east, people who live in the hills should be on alert and remain prepared.

In addition, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at 1 Cyclotron Road, which is also off Centennial Road, advised its employees to leave work early because of the fire, lab spokesman Jon Weiner said.

According to Drayton, about 100 children who were at two camps on East Bay Regional Park District land were voluntarily evacuated by the district because smoke was entering their campgrounds.

People who live in the area were on pins and needles Wednesday. Tom Klatt, of Berkeley, said he was "extremely worried." 

Residents said they couldn't remember a blaze this big since a firestorm in 1991 killed 25 people and injured 150 others in the Oakland Hills.

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