Professor looks at Oakland: hip and at high risk for another big blaze

Oakland hills fire 1991

While much of the state north of San Francisco Bay burns and evacuation warnings seem almost nonstop, a professor in UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design warns that bad wildfire news could strike even closer to home for residents of communities bordering the campus.

Reporter John Metcalfe with CityLab asked John Radke, a professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning as well as city and regional planning, what the prospects are that we will see another conflagration along the lines of the 1991 Oakland hills fire, which claimed 25 lives.

“We likely will,” Radke told Metcalfe, although one big plus is that firefighters are better equipped now to battle such an outbreak.

But the region is loaded with fuel ready to burn, materials ranging from woody juniper bushes that sent flames high into the air, eucalyptus trees that can fire seedpod projectiles a quarter-mile or more and towering Monterey pines that can serve as giant fire logs.

Radke says there’s a lot landowners can do to minimize their fire risks, although it’s often difficult to convince them to spend the money now to potentially save money and much more later.

An expert on modeling fire risks of the wildland-urban interface and on assessing the ability to respond to and mitigate human disasters, Radke once trained as a firefighter to enhance his understanding.

Radke is a founding member of Berkeley’s Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, a group of UC Berkeley researchers and practitioners who recognize the need for interdisciplinary solutions to avoid  tragic events.

He told Metcalfe that last Sunday, which high, hot winds kicked up, he couldn’t sleep because he knew the conditions were ripe for a repeat of the 1991 firestorm, this time in the North Bay.

Fire officials continue to advise that the Northern California fires are far from over, and while they report significant progress on those fires, forecasts again call for some strong wind gusts tonight and into tomorrow.

Read the full CityLab story here