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Could Another Firestorm Strike Oakland Hills?
Published  10/12/2011 | 2011

Narrow Roads & Brushy Terrain Spotlight Hazards 20 Years After Firestorm

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It’s a firefighting nightmare: Will the winding hillside road be big enough to allow a fire engine to pass? The answer could be no.
Twenty years after the Oakland Hills firestorm, the Oakland Fire Department, Insurance Information Network of California and Diablo Fire Safe Council revisited an area devastated by the 1991 catastrophe.  While some conditions have improved, the terrain, narrow roads and empty homes left vacant by the weak economy still pose major challenges to firefighters.
To illustrate the challenges firefighters face in the hillside areas, the Oakland Fire Department’s “engine-eye” view underscored the importance of aggressive fire prevention. Firefighters pointed out examples of well-maintained defensible space, where homeowners had cleared brush, removed dead branches from trees and pulled fire fuels out from under wood decks.
Driving through the narrow, winding roads of Oakland Hills, firefighters urged residents to keep roadways clear of vehicles and other obstacles. Not only do these barriers impede access by fire crews, but they could also obstruct evacuation routes for thousands of area residents.
Adding to the wildfire-challenged landscape, vacant lots are rarely cleared of brush, posing another risk to homeowners and firefighters.
“Although significant improvements have been made, it’s clear we can never let our guard down when it comes to fire prevention efforts in the Oakland Hills,” said Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief William Towner.
“Smart landscaping is part of the fire safety equation,” said Cheryl Miller, executive director of DFSC. “Understanding how fires spread can help us design good looking yards that also reduce the fire risk.”
While physical preparation is important, homeowners also need to keep their financial house in order as well. Having the proper amount of insurance and making sure to inventory belongings is key.
“Homeowners can help firefighters protect their neighborhoods by maintaining defensible space, but they can also help themselves recover should the unthinkable happen by preparing thorough home inventories and using them as a guide to update their insurance annually,” said IINC Executive Director Candysse Miller.
IINC offers free home inventory software that helps homeowners itemize their belongings and identify any home remodels. It also provides insurers with information that can help homeowners determine their present insurance needs and furnishes a roadmap to recovery should they ever experience a loss. The software is available by download from the IINC Web site at   
IINC is a non-profit and non-lobbying trade association dedicated to helping the public understand insurance and manage risk. For more information, please visit IINC is also on Twitter at and on Facebook at

Diablo Fire Safe Council
Oakland Fire Department