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Oakland Firestorm 1991


On October 20, 1991 at approximately 5pm, DART made a call to Oakland dispatch to confirm that Oakland Fire wanted DART to respond. Twelve members of DART reported to "staging" in Oakland at approximately 8:30pm. A destructive conflagration took place in the hills above the cities of Oakland and Berkeley, California. Burning embers carried by high winds from the perimeter of a small but growing duff fire ignited overgrown vegetation and led to the further ignition of tree crowns and combustible construction materials of adjacent homes, including many with wood-shingle roofs.

The result was a major wild-land/urban interface fire that killed 25 people including a police officer and a fire fighter, injured 150 others, destroyed nearly 2,449 single-family dwellings and 437 apartment and condominium units, burned over 1,600 acres, and did an estimated $1.5 billion in damage.

Even though DART had many firefighters on the team they did not have the equipment to fight a fire. Knowing that they had little to offer in the way of suppression capabilities, DART offered up NASA's remote sensing capability. After several hours of trying to convince the Fire Officer in charge of staging that NASA had the capability to perform a high altitude flyover to take pictures of the fire through the smoke, to no avail, the DART representative was finally put in touch with a California Department of Forestry Battalion Chief. Paul Sebesta, the Assistant Chief of the Ecosystem Science and Technology Branch, and a member of DART spoke to Chief Carl Kent of CDF. Paul explained that NASA had the capability to see through the smoke using infrared thermograph, to take pictures, and to correlate the pictures to a map of the area.

At approximately 5:00am the following morning, while the fire was still out of control, NASA, out of Moffett Field/Ames Research Center, conducted its first flyover. The picture provided information to Oakland Fire and CDF showing the location and the magnitude of the fire in areas that they were not even aware of. This was the first time that NASA's infrared remote sensing technology was used for this purpose. DART's efforts, while not directly responsible for fire suppression, was nonetheless an extremely valuable element in the overall effort. It also represented DART's first off-Center deployment.

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Infrared Photograph taken from NASA Ames's C-130. (180,963 bytes) Ground level photo of Oakland Hills fire. (19,272 bytes) The location where the fire started. (69,461 bytes) Aftermath of Fire. (46,221 bytes)
Partial view of fire devastation. (44,954 bytes) Destitute. (41,361 bytes) The white side of tree indicates the direction the fire came from. (35,210 bytes) Two days after the fire started, Lynne Sethi, Michelle Fontain, Bob Dolci, and Brooke Smith were given a tour of the devastation by CDF Battalion Chief Carl Kent. (47,853 bytes)
Nothing was spared from the effects of the firestorm. (30,652 bytes) It was a car. (39,522 bytes) The Phoenix rising from the fire. (49,682 bytes)  

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