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Remembering the 1991 Oakland Firestorm

By: Lauri Martin
By: Lauri Martin

With traditional southern Colorado dry and windy conditions, it wouldn't take long for a fire to spread out of control.

These are similar conditions Oakland, California faced back in 1991 when a fire scorched the city in one afternoon. 3,300 homes were destroyed causing $1.5 billion worth of damage.

Firefighters were actually mopping up a fire from the day before when embers re-ignited and the blaze was out-of-control in a matter of minutes. "They did some math and they estimated in the first hour, it burned a home every 11 seconds," Springs Fire Chief Manuel Navarro said. He knows first-hand; he was a batallion chief with the Oakland Fire Department at the time. He says to be there, fighting the blaze, almost takes your breath away. “It looked like an atomic bomb. The smoke would layer out into the sky."

In an aerial map of the fire, the chief points out where the fire was. “12 people died at this intersection, one being a police officer." A total of 25 people died, including a firefighter in about 5 hours.

Reflecting back, the chief says the dry and windy conditions we have here in the Springs is what Oakland faced. And he said there is no doubt that there is a possibility the same type of situation could happen here.

Navarro says they were never able to nail down a cause of the Oakland firestorm since the land was so burned up. But, he said, it's suspected someone was smoking in the canyon.

You can find more information on FireWatch. On the homepage, there is an icon you can click on. You can find out just how at risk your home is for a wildfire and you'll find tips on how to help keep your house safe .


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