Oakland Marks 28 Years Since Devastating 1991 Fire

Survivors in Oakland came together Saturday to mark 28 years since the catastrophic 1991 firestorm, just as the Bay Area enters another stretch of elevated fire danger.

Firefighters gathered at an emergency preparedness exhibit center with neighbors – neighbors like Carolyn Burgess, whose home burned in 1991. Many of her neighbors now are new.

“Some of them don’t even know about trimming the trees or keeping the brush back from the house,” she said. “All of that basic stuff I was not aware.”

Burgess learned about disaster preparedness after the 1991 fire, but her planning was tested this month when PG&E turned off power to help prevent wildfires.

“What I got from this power outage was what an island I was,” Burgess said. “I couldn’t communicate with people, it was so black. I found the alarm system on my house didn’t work.”

Councilman Dan Klab said he believes the shutoff plan was not well thought out. The utility has said it will improve communication. Klab said the city will keep working in its plans.

“We’re going to look for more money as well, to clear out brush, to inspect people’s private properties, to make sure they’re obeying the law,” Klab said.

Lt. Dan Robertson, who worked the 1991 fire, said crews are always looking at different methods that can help prevent fires. He said he believes that in the time after the 1991 blaze Oakland shined a spotlight on community preparedness.

“What they have started doing recently in the last year or two is to try to preplan these mutual aid responses, or strike teams,” Robertson said.

The Oakland Fire Department said it will hold a large commemoration in 2021 for the 30th anniversary of the fire.

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