Berkeley and Oakland will be under a red flag warning as strong winds out of the northeast raise the risk of wildfire catching and spreading into East Bay cities and other parts of the Bay Area Saturday and Sunday.
Dry winds, gusting up to a mile a minute in places, coupled with low humidity in the forecast are the perfect combination for drying out vegetation, making it more likely to ignite, and if fires catch, carrying them blocks at a time if they hit urban areas.
“You’re going to start to see a gradual ramp-up for the Berkeley Hills area and the Oakland Hills through the day Saturday,” said Matt Mehle, a lead meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Bay Area office in Monterey. The wind should peak Saturday evening into Sunday morning, and finally subside later in the day Sunday.
“Fire weather concerns will basically end come Sunday evening into Monday,” Mehle said. “The winds will really start to taper off.”
The warning covers ridges in the North Bay, East Bay and Santa Cruz Mountains, according to an announcement from the weather service.
The wind is not forecast to gust quite as high in Berkeley and Oakland, with forecasts putting most of the strongest gusts around 30 miles per hour.
In another possibly optimistic sign, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. had not announced any plans to preemptively shut off power because of high wildfire risk as of Friday afternoon.
Nevertheless the National Weather Service is urging caution to all, recommending residents stay tuned to local fire agencies and not conduct any burning whatsoever outdoors.
“If you receive information from emergency officials, take actions on what they’re saying,” Mehle said. “Heed the advice that they provide.”
As of Friday the Berkeley Fire Department had concluded the weather would not hit their criteria for “extreme fire weather,” a combination of winds so high and humidity so low that the department recommends evacuation in some hillside neighborhoods. The NWS’s red flag warnings, by comparison, have a lower threshold for fire risk, Deputy Fire Chief Keith May said in an email.
May did reiterate several recommendations from the department that residents can put into practice in order to be prepared if and when fires start:
- Sign up all your devices for AC Alert
- Leave your phone on to receive alerts even if you are sleeping and don’t use “do not disturb” mode during high-risk weather
- Find your evacuation zone on Berkeley’s Emergency Map, which will be referenced in AC Alert evacuation messages. For example, “BER-E044” is Berkeley Zone 44. Learn more about the city’s emergency alerting tools, such as its new Outdoor Warning System
- Put a “go bag” by your front door
- Plan multiple evacuation routes, including two by foot
- Park off-street; back your car into your driveway or garage, leaving streets clear for emergency vehicles.
The city also sent out a press release Friday urging residents to “use extreme caution” if using barbecue grills, power equipment or any other heat source, including idling cars, and to remember that fireworks of all kinds are illegal in Berkeley.
Ed. note: This article was updated after publication with additional information from the Berkeley Fire Department and the city of Berkeley.
"*" indicates required fields