The Oakland-Berkeley hills in the aftermath of the 1991 Firestorm. Photo: Richard Misrach

Twenty years ago next month, on a sunny Sunday in October, a raging fire took hold and — driven by hot, dry northeasterly winds — swept through the Oakland-Berkeley hills causing massive destruction and loss.

The flames jumped two freeways, eventually spreading across 1,520 acres, incinerating more than 3,300 homes at an average rate of 11 seconds each and, ultimately, injuring 150 people and leaving 25 dead.

The Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm still looms large in the collective memories of our community. Nobody who lived here at the time was immune to the impact of the traumatic event — and, for many, their lives changed forever on Oct. 20, 1991.

Berkeleyside is marking the 20th anniversary of the fire by asking readers to share their recollections and thoughts on the disaster, its impact and long-term consequences. We will pull together all your submissions and publish them as part of a week-long series of articles that will appear, and be permanently archived, on the site.

Send us a few lines or many, tell us about your personal experience of the fire, share a photograph, a video. Perhaps you made a resolution or embarked in a new direction after that fateful day — email us at, leave a comment here, and/or upload images onto our Flickr pool. [Update, 09.29.11: Reader Peter Jenny reminds us that oral histories are good too — if you prefer to record your thoughts, send us an MP3.)

Berkeleyside is also collaborating with the Berkeley Art Museum around its forthcoming exhibition by Berkeley photographer Richard Misrach. The show, 1991: Oakland-Berkeley Fire Aftermath, Photographs by Richard Misrach runs from Oct. 12 through Feb. 5, 2012, along with a companion exhibition, “Richard Misrach: Photographs from the Collection”.

Berkeleyside is supporting a community evening for the show on Oct. 11, at 5:30 p.m., where BAM members and guests from around the community are invited to preview the exhibition.

We will also be partnering with BAM on an open-mic-style gathering at the museum in mid-November, in recognition of our shared experience of the firestorm and its aftermath. We will provide more details nearer the time.

In the meantime, please allow us to act as a community forum and help us to assemble a meaningful collection of shared memories on the 20th anniversary of a disaster that touched us all.

See full coverage of the Firestorm.

Richard Misrach: A focus on the after-story

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...