Firefighters respond to a blaze on Albany Hill Sunday. Credit: Bryan Marten

Update, June 28, 3:10 p.m. The Berkeley woman arrested on suspicion of setting fire to Albany Hill on Sunday has been charged with two counts of felony arson for maliciously and recklessly burning forest land.

Police say Megan Strahl, 31, was seen by multiple witnesses lighting a fire in Albany and that she had a small butane torch at the time of her arrest Sunday afternoon, according to court papers reviewed by Berkeleyside. 

“Albany hill is considered an extremely high fire danger area as the hillsides consists of thick underbrush and hundreds of eucalyptus trees in various conditions ranging from healthy to dry due to recent droughts,” Albany police officer Jonathan Torres wrote in his report. “Albany Hill is also home to hundreds of Albany residents. Several homes on Albany Hill were constructed decades ago and are made of wood and shingle siding.”

Two fires were lit around 3:30 p.m. Sunday, police said. The first was lit in the tall dry brush below Interstate 80, off Cleveland Avenue, and started climbing up Albany Hill, prompting evacuations and road closures before firefighters were able to extinguish it. The second fire was lit shortly afterward, along Pierce Street at the base of the hill. 

Shortly after the first fire started, a witness told police they saw Strahl try to light a weed on fire on the curb near Peggy Thomsen Pierce Street Park. The witness took a picture of Strahl, and then saw her walk north, toward where other witnesses saw a woman matching Strahl’s description start the second fire.

Strahl was arrested near the Gateview condo complex. She was only charged with starting the first fire by the Alameda  County District Attorney’s Office. 

Strahl was charged Tuesday, though a spokesperson for the city of Albany erroneously told Berkeleyside that she had been charged earlier.

Original post, June 27, 1 p.m. A 31-year-old Berkeley woman has been arrested on suspicion of arson in connection with a fire on Albany Hill on Sunday afternoon.

The woman was arrested Sunday and taken to Santa Rita Jail, according to Albany city spokesperson Brennen Brown. 

Around 3:30 p.m. the Albany Fire Department received reports of two vegetation fires — one near the intersection of Washington and Cleveland avenues and one on the west side of Albany Hill. Berkeley, Richmond, El Cerrito and Contra Costa County provided mutual aid.

The Albany Police Department closed roads and ordered residents living on Gateview and Hillside avenues and on Taft Street to evacuate their homes and go to Golden Gate Field as firefighters combated the blaze. People on the 600 block of Jackson Street were told to shelter in place.  

The evacuation was called off by 6:45 p.m. No structures were damaged or people injured by the fires. 

A security guard alerted an Albany police officer that the woman may have set the Albany Hill fire, and the woman was arrested, according to an Albany Police Department Facebook post.

The incident is still under investigation. 

During the evacuation, an AC Alert was issued but no information was shared on Zonehaven, the county’s evacuation software system that launched last year.

Brown said that’s partly because only a few specific streets needed to be evacuated, not an entire neighborhood. But Albany would make an effort to alert residents through Zonehaven for similar fires in the future, he said.

“It’s a fairly new process, and we’re still trying to work it out,” he said.

Before joining Berkeleyside as managing editor in April 2021, Zac was editor of the Southwest Journal, a 30,000-circulation biweekly community paper in Minneapolis, MN. While there, he led coverage of...