The city of Berkeley put out the following safety message Friday, noting that high fire danger has been forecast to begin Sunday, and power shutoffs are likely. Residents should be ready to evacuate in a wildfire, the city said. Berkeley Hills residents in particular “should plan to stay elsewhere until fire danger subsides.” The National Weather Service has issued a high wind watch for what is being called a “20-year wind event.”Update, Oct. 25, 4:40 p.m.: While PG&E has reduced its estimates of the number of households that will lose power through its Public Safety Power Shutoff, Berkeley officials said the high fire danger remains and residents in the hills should consider leaving their homes.
David White, deputy city manager, said the low humidity and the expected high winds still pose a fire danger. “Nothing has changed,” said White.
Berkeley has added fire crews, will have a tree task force ready to respond to calls of downed trees, and will increase patrols, said White.
A Red Flag Warning takes effect in Berkeley at 8 p.m. and will last until Tuesday at 5 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. Winds are expected to be from 25 to 40 mph with gusts up to 50 mph.
Original story: With high fire danger starting Sunday at 11 a.m., everyone, especially residents in the Berkeley Hills, should stay on heightened alert, keep phones charged and nearby, and consider leaving the hills before Sunday afternoon — especially if they would have trouble getting out quickly in a fire. People who live east of Claremont and residents of Panoramic Hill should also prepare for potential power shutoffs.
A red flag warning has been issued for the Berkeley Hills from 11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 25, to 5 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27. Current forecasts project winds in the region to be as strong or stronger than those present during 2019’s devastating Kincade Fire and the 2017 wine country fires. Combined with record-low moisture levels, these winds are expected to create the most dangerous fire weather Berkeley has seen so far this year. The combination of strong winds, low humidity, and dry vegetation enables wildfires to spark and spread rapidly.
In addition, PG&E has announced plans for a public safety power shutoff for parts of Berkeley starting as early as 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25. PG&E has told the city that it anticipates that 1,500 Berkeley customers are likely to be impacted. This is the first time this year PG&E has included Berkeley in a PSPS event — an indication of how serious this wind event is expected to be.
The city has staffed and positioned additional fire resources and added police patrols in the hills. Additional vehicles and portable speakers have been moved to fire stations to facilitate an evacuation if needed.
A task force of fire and forestry responders will be ready to rapidly respond to downed trees blocking evacuation routes. Residents can help by reporting broken branches and fallen trees to 311 or 510-981-2489. Call 911 only for immediate life safety issues.
Sign up for alerts to stay informed
Everyone should sign up for AC Alert, the emergency notification system for Berkeley and Alameda County. In a fire evacuation, power shutoff, or other disaster, we will use AC Alert to send instructions and information.
Use the PG&E power shutoff map and sign up for address-specific alerts from PG&E to be notified if you will be impacted by PG&E power shutoffs. PG&E has stated that information about this weekend’s event will be posted on the map after 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 23.
To be safest, leave the area early if you can amid high fire danger
Hills residents should consider preemptively evacuating to the homes of friends, family, or to hotels until dangerous weather subsides.
Especially during high winds, wildfires can spark, spread, and change directions rapidly. Fallen branches and trees may block roads. The best way to stay in control and reduce the risk to your household is to leave before a fire starts. This is especially true for residents who would have trouble getting out quickly or on foot.
The narrow, windy street network in the Berkeley hills can get crowded quickly. The more people who leave the area in advance, the more space there will be on roads if an evacuation is required.
Because fires are unpredictable, we can only announce safe evacuation sites once a fire starts and we know what areas are threatened. Make a plan in advance to get off the hill, and keep phones and radios ready to receive instructions for where to go. We will send instructions over AC Alert and broadcast on 1610AM.
Special considerations for evacuating during COVID-19
Think about who in your network you might be able to stay with and reach out to them now. Because of the dangers of large groups gathering indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be fewer shelter options than under normal circumstances.
Talk in advance with people you might stay with about COVID-19 safety and what precautions you will take while all under the same roof. Review CDC guidance for people living in close quarters. If you can, identify households to evacuate to that don’t include people over 65 years old or who have pre-existing medical conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.
Discount hotel rates for Berkeleyans during red flag warnings
Several hotels are offering special discounts for Berkeley residents during red flag warnings in October and November. Hills residents are encouraged to take advantage of these relief rates during this period of heightened threat. See the list of rooms and discount rates on the city website.
Steps everyone should take during red flag warnings
The city has mobilized staff across all departments to respond rapidly to this developing situation. Residents need to prepare as well. The basic precautions all hills residents should take during every red flag warning are especially important now:
- Sign up for AC Alert
- Leave your phone on and keep it with you
- Put go-bags by the door
- Review evacuation routes
- Park off-street to keep roadways clear for emergency vehicles
- Back into your driveway or garage so you can exit more quickly
Print out our wildfire evacuation checklist and keep it in a prominent location. Get more information on creating a go-bag, preparing your home, identifying evacuation routes, getting ready to evacuate, and what to do during an evacuation at cityofberkeley.info/wildfire.
Berkeley’s hills are not immune to wildfires similar to those ravaging communities across the West Coast. Gain control. Prepare. If you can, evacuate before a fire starts.