Barriers erected at Grizzly Peak Boulevard on Oct. 3, 2020. Photo: Cathy Scharf

UC Berkeley blocked off turnouts on Grizzly Peak Boulevard with barriers on Saturday, part of a multi-jurisdictional attempt to stop people from congregating and setting off fireworks during high fire season.

The university placed eucalyptus logs and yellow caution tape at turnouts 1-7 on Saturday, Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb said in a Friday newsletter. (His D1 includes the area). Oakland will install chainlink fences on Monday in turnouts 8 and 9. Oakland and Berkeley have placed message boards at intersections that flash “Extreme Fire Danger – All Turnouts Closed 24 hrs/day.” And police have said they will do extra patrols.

The turnouts along Grizzly Peak are popular gathering places as they offer magnificent views of Berkeley and San Francisco Bay. But the turnouts are perched over extremely dry brush and some people have also set off fireworks.

Barriers up at Grizzly Peak Boulevard on Oct. 3, 2020. Photo: Cathy Scharf

“Large gatherings in the evenings, especially on weekends, were creating many hazards,” Kalb wrote. “In fact, Oakland Fire Department tracked 6 wildfires on Grizzly Peak in a short 6-week period, the majority of which were caused by fireworks. The majority of this problematic behavior is occurring in the evening.”

The 1991 Tunnel fire, which destroyed 3,000 dwellings and killed 25 people, started very near Grizzly Peak Boulevard.

In recent weeks, residents of the Berkeley and Oakland hills have expressed concern in social media posts, to Berkeleyside and to various legislative bodies about the prevalence of firecrackers and the lack of crackdown on those lighting them.

On Sept. 15, at the urging of Berkeley City Councilmember Susan Wengraf, the City Council adopted an emergency resolution urging close coordination of the various entities whose property touches Grizzly Park Boulevard. They include Berkeley, Oakland, UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Hall of Science, and East Bay Regional Parks.

The resolution also required that all calls regarding the setting off of fireworks during fire season be treated as high priority emergency calls. Before then, the calls were considered non-emergency.

“The illegal and very reckless igniting of fireworks and trash burning at Grizzly Peak lookouts jeopardizes the safety of all residents of Berkeley and Oakland as well as the UC Berkeley campus, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and all East Bay communities that could be harmed by a fire originating in these areas,” background provided with the resolution reads. “Dangerous and illegal activity must be stopped immediately through coordinated policies, programs and response by all jurisdictions responsible for Grizzly Peak Blvd. and other similar view and gathering locations.”

In recent weeks, signs have indicated that the turnouts would be closed from 9 p.m. to 6 p.m.

However, not everyone is paying attention to those rules, City Manager Dee Williams Ridley said in a Sept. 21 town hall meeting.

“People have just decided to not comply with those rules,” she said. There will be enforcement now with the joint coordination, she said

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...