Fire-fighters announced Monday that they had contained a ferocious firestorm that swept through the dry hills above Oakland and Berkeley and destroyed at least 380 homes. At least 10 people were reported killed and damage was put at $1.5 billion.
Oakland Fire Chief Phillip Ewell made the announcement at a news conference. He said officials expected the 1,700-acre blaze, which began Sunday morning, to be controlled by evening.A parade of fire engines cruised through the eerie, blackened area overlooking San Francisco Bay, extinguishing hot spots as isolated flames continued to poke into the sky.
"What showed up last night as burning hot spots, this morning were clearly the charred ruins of hundreds of homes," said Gov. Pete Wilson at the news conference. "There's been terrible devastation."
On Sunday, ash-covered residents grabbed pets, photographs and other keepsakes before fire chased them from their homes.
"I didn't take my checkbook, nothing. There was nobody to help me think," said 77-year-old Piccola White, who fled with her great-grandson.
Among the victims were a family of five who died trying to escape their burning home. A firefighter and a police officer also were killed, said Alameda County Supervisor Don Perata.
About 1,000 firefighters battled the blaze, which was reported about midday Sunday and moved quickly from street to street, then hill to hill, in Oakland and Berkeley neighborhoods with panoramic views of San Francisco Bay. The fire made a deafening roar as it burned terrain parched by five years of drought.
Wildfires also burned in Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.
In Oakland, winds gusting to 40 mph whipped the flames, forcing firefighters to flee along with residents. Thunderous explosions attributed to propane tanks, trees or electric transformers were heard.
The fire in the heavily wooded neighborhoods near the Caldecott Tunnel destroyed at least 350 homes in Oakland and 30 to 40 in Berkeley. More than 1,500 acres were blackened.
Morning commuter traffic was a disaster. The fire forced the closure of two highways that connect suburban Contra Costa County to Oakland, and Bay Area Rapid Transit trains were also halted.
The cause of the fire was not known. Mayor Elihu Harris said it did not appear to be arson.
It was the most destructive fire in California since a wildfire destroyed 560 homes and other buildings in Santa Barbara County in June 1990. In 1923, a