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Oakland hills firestorm

A couple of weekends ago I happened to catch Richard Misrach’s Oakland-Berkeley firestorm exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California. I was only vaguely aware of the firestorm since it happened in ’91, long before I met anyone here, so it was interesting to learn some local history. Basically something started a fire, and intense, dry hot winds turned it into an extreme wildfire that completely scorched the hills. A curator explained some of the stories he had collected, how some of the staff lost their homes, how people dumped valuable belongings in swimming pools as a last ditch effort to save them. (TIL Wil Wright of SimCity fame lost his house in the fires and used the experience of rebuilding as an inspiration to make The Sims.)

It was amazing to see the level of destruction of the area. There were no smoldering charred ruins left, it was all gone. If it wasn’t brick or metal, it was completely turned to ash and blew away. Cars and bicycles stripped of all rubber, melted tricycles, staircases and decks leading nowhere, trees turned to ashy stumps. In the exhibit hall was a book where people were free to write their stories. One entry written by a child said it looked like “another planet, like the moon”; that was an accurate assessment.

What really made me sad was that among the photographs was one of food+water dishes that somebody had left out presumably for their pets. There were several “missing cat” photos posted and it made me realize that lots of beloved pets lost their lives too. I like to think people were able to evacuate with their pets, but I know there were many people who were unable to return home. There would have been nowhere for animals to run, and I imagine even if the front door were left wide open many pets would be too scared to flee. :(

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