Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Oakland Fire-Loss Cost Soaring Past Quake Figures: Death Toll at 22, Some 2,400 Homes Destroyed

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Oakland Fire-Loss Cost Soaring Past Quake Figures: Death Toll at 22, Some 2,400 Homes Destroyed

Article excerpt

In Berkeley and Oakland, Calif.'s East Bay hills section, thousands of residents and local officials are trying to recover from a fire more destructive than even the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In addition to being a monumental human disaster, the event constitutes a monumental nightmare to government at all level as attempts are made to bring normalcy back to the area.

The conflagration began a week ago Sunday, and in its wake left some 5,000 people homeless and at least 22 dead, 49 people listed as missing and 148 injured. It effectively shut down transportation in the area for several hours, and destroyed three square miles of stately hillside residences, many of which were architecturally significant and unique.

Karen Terrill, spokesperson for the Department of Forestry, called the forest fire in an urban area "the fire of the future for California" because of lavish homes built in wooded areas throughout the state.

Preliminary estimates put the damage at $2.5 billion to $5 billion, but state insurance officials said that figure did not include some areas where homeowners have not been allowed to return. Some 2,400 homes and other buildings were destroyed. Home prices in the Oakland Hills area range form $300,000 to $2 million, making every loss a major one. There were some 3,000 cars lost in the fire.

Insurance industry spokespersons say the cost will far exceed the costs of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.

Local officials from Alameda County, Berkeley and Oakland, many of whom lost their homes in the fire, were jolted into action as the flames went out of control and began gobbling up entire blocks, house by house. Beyond responding with fire and rescue crews, public officials set up telephone hotlines, emergency housing facilities, appeared on television with information, and facilitated the evacuation process. …

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