It was Saturday evening, Oct. 26, and the sun was going down. I left the newspaper office in Walnut Creek around 3 p.m. and decided to head up to Grizzly Peak in the Oakland Hills to photograph the sunset. Smoke from the Kincade Fire had drifted into the Bay Area, and I was hoping to capture a photograph that showed the smoky conditions. I joined a group of onlookers parked on a windy road turnout as the sun set behind the San Francisco skyline. To me, this smoke-hazed photograph of San Francisco represented the calm before the storm because what happened next was one of the craziest days of my life.
There was a red flag warning in the Bay Area, which means that warm temperatures with very low humidities mixed with strong winds were expected to produce increased fire risk. The next day I was scheduled to photograph the 49ers game against the Carolina Panthers, but my editor, Laura Oda, suggested I stay in the area in case things got bad. Well, things got bad, and then they got ugly. I woke at 3:30 a.m. Oct. 27 and noticed on Twitter that there was a fire in Bethel Island, and immediately left the house to cover it. And when I thought it was over, I heard of another fire in Clayton, then another in Crockett and then another in Lafayette. In all, I covered four large grass fires from one end of Contra Costa County to the other. But there was still one more grass fire in Martinez I couldn’t get to because I had to file my images for deadline. Our reporter, Rick Hurd, wrote a story about the events of the next day. A portion of his story is at right.
In the end, it was one of the longest days I’ve worked in memory. I had climbed hillsides, jumped over fences, driven over 100 miles and covered four large grass fires. Now I know what it feels like to be Noah Berger. Almost.
From Rick Hurd's story:
“For 15 hours, we went from fire to fire to fire, nonstop,” 20-year veteran and strike-team chief Lon Goetsch said. “It was the worst situation I’ve ever seen.”
Here’s what crews faced:
11:45 p.m.: 75 firefighters respond to the Oakland Fire in Walnut Creek, which damaged a building.
3:09 a.m.: 75 firefighters respond to the Santiago Fire in Bethel Island. Thirty people evacuate.
5:14 a.m.: 102 firefighters respond to the Knightsen Fire in Oakley, and 2,850 people evacuate.
5:36 a.m.: 33 firefighters respond to the Cypress Fire in Oakley, adjacent to the Knightsen fire.
6:40 a.m.: 57 firefighters respond to the Leon Fire in Clayton, 150 people evacuate and 30 acres burn.
9:39 a.m.: 150 firefighters respond to the Sky Fire in Crockett, 750 people evacuate and 200 acres burn.
10:17 a.m.: 30 firefighters respond to a mass-casualty incident when a tree falls in downtown Martinez. Nine people injured.
1:20 p.m.: 168 firefighters battle the Pleasant Fire North and Pleasant Fire South in Lafayette. Orders to evacuate are given to 2,400.
3:51 p.m.: 105 firefighters respond to the Forest Fire in Martinez. 1,100 people are ordered to evacuate; the blaze burns 50 acres.
A staff of eight to nine dispatchers — two to three more than normally would work on a Saturday — handled 1,129 emergency calls during the 15-hour period, more than 400 of them through the county’s 10-digit emergency number.