Fire and Smoke

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"Nothing's left," my dad reported to my mom. He'd gone by himself to find their house, because he didn't want my 74-year-old mom to see the devastation of what came to be called the Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm.

Later, my mom asked me to take her. As we approached Hiller Highlands, where they had lived for 11 years, my mom's face turned ashen as she looked at the hills once covered with homes, including her own. The air was still heavy with smoke. All that remained were chimneys and black matchstick trees.

My parents' ordeal began about 11:00 am that Sunday when my 78-year-old dad smelled smoke and frantically searched for it. He found nothing, until he opened the front door and got blasted by a gust of wind. Flames covered the hills and appeared headed his way. He grabbed my mom, and they fled in their car down Hiller Drive. They missed by minutes the gridlock that trapped and killed residents fleeing from Charing Cross.

That morning I stood on my front porch in Albany and watched the eastern sky darken above where my parents lived. I gave up calling when I heard phone lines were out and cars forbidden in the fire area.

It took two hours before my parents turned their car onto our street. Dazed and confused, they couldn't remember how long they had been driving around.


We later mourned the loss of their home and 3,000 others, the 25 people killed, the scores injured, the animals and pets missing or dead.

My parents decided to re-build, but just before they were to move into their new home two years later, my dad died of stomach cancer. My mother moved back in alone, but she couldn't adjust to life without her marriage of more than 50 years, and died in 1996.

My parents survived the fire, but never recovered from it. I come to the Firestorm Memorial Garden every year and marvel at hills now covered with homes and native plants growing around them. It's a reminder of nature and the human spirit's ability to rejuvenate. I need that reminder. We all do.

With a Perspective, I'm Marilee Stark.