September 23, 2023

An eerie three-tone chime rang out over Berkeley at 12 p.m. Sunday afternoon, the sound echoing by the bushes at Stay Oak Park as metropolis officers appeared on.

“This can be a take a look at of town of Berkeley’s out of doors warning system,” a disembodied voice mentioned, adopted by applause from a crowd that had gathered. “That is solely a take a look at.”

For an occasion commemorating the 100-year anniversary of a wildfire that destroyed a lot of North Berkeley, the “Fireplace Prepared Fest” was a decidedly chipper affair. Youngsters pranced by little hula hoops adorned with paper flames. Adults posed with a large lion mascot wearing a Cal Fireplace uniform. Households sat consuming lunch within the park grass.

Though the occasion had the power of a summer season farmers market, the eerie chime was a recent reminder that, even a century later, Berkeley residents face a novel set of wildfire dangers.

“Wildfire has all the time been a part of our historical past in Berkeley, and our panorama,” mentioned Berkeley Fireplace Chief David Sprague. “We perceive the importance of the menace that we face.”

In line with the chief, Berkeley’s fireplace zone represents “a particular sort of hazard.” The terrain is mountainous, the housing dense, the climate dry, and the panorama utterly reworked. What was as soon as a grassland is now a lush city forest, coated in wood-frame and shingled homes.

All these components contributed to the devastation of the Nice Fireplace of 1923, which destroyed lots of of properties and brought on hundreds of thousands of {dollars} of harm. With out an efficient warning system, some residents actually ran for his or her lives as flames descended on their properties.

Up to now century, a lot has been carried out to mitigate these dangers. The hearth division has grown immensely. There are higher public warning methods, a larger consciousness of wildfire threat, and stronger initiatives to scale back fuels in city parks.

This new warning system, officers mentioned, is yet one more piece of that puzzle. Sprague mentioned the system makes use of new know-how and is linked to a backup photo voltaic generator so that it’s going to perform even when town has misplaced energy. Within the occasion of a extreme wildfire, a warning system will be the distinction between misplaced property and misplaced lives.

Warning methods are gaining popularity. Officers in Paradise, roughly 90 miles north of Sacramento, just lately started testing new sirens there almost 5 years after a lethal inferno ripped by the city with little warning and killed greater than 80 folks.

In Lahaina, the place a fireplace final month killed greater than 95 folks and destroyed the historic city, Maui County officers didn’t activate sirens that critics of the emergency response say may have warned way more folks concerning the quick-moving blaze.

Sprague mentioned Sunday that fireside workers, and even warning methods, can solely accomplish that a lot, and that every one residents of Berkeley must be on the identical web page, working to mitigate fireplace threats on their very own properties.