Eustice and Golden Gate
Brookside and Buena Vista
Ocean View and Margarido Operations
Oakland Division G
Engine Companies 1, 8, 29 and 36
Hose Tender 8
"I was a member of the first strike team," said Lt. King A. Strong, "and we reported with Engine 29 to the Oakland command post on Highway 24."
He and the crew of San Francisco Engine 29 were initially assigned to the heart of the conflagration zone in the area of Eustice and Golden Gate, near Broadway Terrace. The crew then led lines and put the Multiversal to work to fight the conflagration.
"We were sent to an intersection about a block to the west of Golden Gate. Battalion Chief Jim Tracey was there. An Oakland officer -- on Battalion Chief Tracey's orders -- then told us to go to Golden Gate. When we got there, we backed into the intersection and put our Multiversal to work with water pumped from Oakland Engine 18. We also made a couple of large-line leads to houses in the area," he said.
"The fire just kept on coming, and we were losing water pressure. So, we shut down our Multiversal to keep the large lines pressurized. However, the fire jumped the street -- it was on both sides of us -- and it grew dark because the smoke was so intense it blocked out the sun. It felt like we were in the dead of night."
The conflagration in this area appeared to assume the characteristics of a firestorm.
"I saw embers flying -- I actually saw little balls of fire flying all around in the air. You'd see fire flying everywhere -- the intensity of it was incredible -- I'd heard of firestorms, but this was the first time I was ever in one.
"Because of the smoke and firebrands, our efforts seemed ineffective, so I spoke with the officer of Oakland Engine 18. We decided to pull out. He wanted to drop the hose and get out, but I wanted to save our hose because we were useless without it.
"We picked up and drove forward though a tunnel of smoke to the light at the end. It had gotten so hot there that the fire had singed my hair.
"I left Edward Ghilardi, the driver, and Firefighter Robert Muniz with the rig until the Oakland officer decided what to do with it."
The engine was backed down to a low-pressure red-top hydrant in the area of Brookside and Buena Vista after Lt. Strong and Firefighter Michael S. Estebez had left, and a one-block lead was extended to an Oakland engine, and then on to San Francisco Engine 8.
"Firefighter Estebez and I found Lt. Mark Kearney of [San Francisco] Engine 8 working along Brookside, and we helped him make leads. We made some ready-line leads off the engine in an attempt to save some houses," said Lt. Strong.
"A lot of citizens were helping us here," he said. "They were pulling lines and would hold them while we broke windows of burning structures, trying to vent them and stop the fire. We stayed for a while, but eventually left so that we could regroup with our original company."
Lieutenant Strong, an 18-year veteran of the Department said, "It was amazing to me. It made me think of the movie "Apocalypse Now," because of the fire burning all over the place. It was all around you -- above you and below you -- it is hard to describe until you see it. I'd never experienced anything so terrible. The 1989 earthquake was difficult because I had dealt with crushed bodies at the Bluxome St. collapse, but this fire was an ongoing, uncontrolled catastrophe.
"We found our engine down the hill at Brookside and Buena Vista. There was only one house on the corner that was not on fire. We took small line off the engine and stopped the fire in the garage next door. We stopped it at that one house. A citizen came up to me and said: `It's nice that you saved that house, but the woman who lived there died last spring.'
"We left the engine and Firefighter Muniz at the corner while firefighters Estebez, Ghilardi and I went with Engine 1 up to Margarido where they were getting ready to lay the five-inch line.
"We went with Engine 1 as the apparatus was backed down to find a hydrant, and we took all the line off and dragged it up to several houses. We were going from one house to another, stopping the fire whenever we could. We then lost pressure on the Oakland domestic water system, and the fire got so hot we had to back out. It was another firestorm situation.
"At 3:45 p.m., we began to help Hose Tender 8 lay the five-inch line and put out the portable hydrants. We then connected Engine 1 to one of the portable hydrants and led lines, and again tried to make another stand.
"At about this time, Ed Ghilardi, my driver with Engine 29 -- which was at Buena Vista and Brookside -- called on the Department radio to find out where we were. He managed to locate us, and brought the rig up to Engine 1's location. The beacon on the engine was melted, and there were streak marks on the front from where he drove the apparatus through downed wires. To get the engine to us, he actually had to cut his way out of downed wires at one point.
"He backed Engine 29 down the street and gave us more hose, and then went to replace Engine 8 at the hydrant. We stayed with Engine Companies 1 and 36 for the rest of the day. We were just making leads and trying to stop the fire and make as many saves as we could.
"Someone from the Oakland department, or from the California Department of Forestry, then got the idea of going through the buildings and pulling the drapes and blinds off to keep them from catching fire from radiated heat. We also shut off the gas valves to structures that had already burned.
"When it got dark, the Red Cross came by with sandwiches and cartons of sodas for the crew.
"For the rest of the night, it was in and out, and from that time on it didn't seem as dangerous since the winds had finally died down. We were relieved at about 9 p.m., and were sent home at 4 a.m. because our engine would not shut down when the `kill' switch was pulled."