Reata Place and Chabot Road
Rockridge Place and Rockridge Place, South
Oakland Division A
Engine Companies 3 and 36
San Francisco Fire Engine Companies 3 and 36 reported to the Oakland command post on the south side of state Highway 24 at Broadway St. and were detailed to the area of Reata Place and Chabot Rd.
Oakland Battalion Chief Garcia -- Oakland Division A -- at about 1: 15 p.m. told Oakland Assistant Chief Neil Honeycutt on the Oakland department radio that he had with him "...two San Francisco engine companies. We're located at Reata and Chabot Rd. Everything from the tennis courts on Chabot Rd. up to the tunnel is involved. We're trying to establish a line at Chabot and Reata. We're going to need quite [a] bit of resources here. At least one more five-engine strike team to try to keep it from going farther."
Fire conditions in the area were extreme, and the Oakland command post was forced to move because of the fast-moving conflagration, and this is where Engine Companies 3 and 36 were assigned by Battalion Chief Garcia. Assistant Chief Honeycutt radioed to Oakland Fire Alarm, "The command post for Division ... A ... has been moved back to Broadway, (unintelligible) Beechwood and Country Club. I got one structure fully involved moving into the trees. Where is the [additional] San Francisco strike team? That's who I need."
"An Oakland battalion chief [Garcia] met us on Highway 24 and Broadway," said Firefighter Joseph E. Cuff, assigned to Engine 36, "and he took Engine Companies 3 and 36 to the north side of the freeway on Chabot Rd. to the leading edge of the firestorm."
Engine 3 was commanded by Temporary Lt. Charles L. Schafer and Engine 36 was led by Temporary Lt. Dan F. Dente.
Firefighter James R. Castro of Engine 3 took the hydrant at Chabot Rd. and Reata Place while Engine 36 was brought east along Chabot Rd. -- about one-half block -- where the company made its attack on homes that were on fire.
Engine 3 was backed up Reata Pl. -- a cul-de-sac -- and, "We took all our tools, large-line nozzles, a ladder and two large-line leads and got up on the roof of a ranch-style house. Lieutenant Dente and Engine 36 were parallel to, and just below us. Firefighter Castro led out line to the hydrant back at the corner," Firefighter Cuff said.
Firefighter Lawrence Zammarchi connected one line from Engine 3 to a Multiversal, and set it up at the end house in the cul-de-sac.
Firefighter Cuff and Lt. Schafer placed a Gorter nozzle on the other large line, laddered the house to the right of Firefighter Zammarchi's position, and then covered him from the roof.
"Firefighter Zammarchi was on the Multiversal and he had a 90- degree arc to cover. He was all alone, but we had eye contact with him because we were on the roof covering him with a hose sweep of 180 degrees.
"When we first got there, trees were blowing up and baseball-sized embers were blowing laterally with the wind -- big chunks of them, and that's what caused the houses to catch fire," said Firefighter Cuff.
The crew of Engine 3 stopped the fire from coming up the canyon with the Multiversal and the three-inch line, and also covered Engine 36 which was to the right of their position.
"After some 30 to 40 minutes, the roof of the house to the right of Lt. Schafer and myself began to ignite," he said.
"Lieutenant Schafer was blown from the roof of the house we were on by strong winds, but he landed in some juniper bushes so he wasn't hurt too badly," Firefighter Cuff said. "He got up and went to the house to the right of us where fire had just started, and began tearing burning shingles off the roof by hand because he didn't have a line.
"So, we broke down my line and put in a wye, and and took a one- and-one-half-inch line and extended it into the front of the house where Lt. Schafer was working. The crew of Engine 36 also took a lead into the back of the building.
"We had lots of assistance from college-age kids who came up and asked if they could help, so we sent them to the apparatus with instructions for Firefighter Jim Castro who was down there about 1,000 feet away, and they carried the stuff we needed up the hill for us.
"Some of the others -- about 10 or 12 of them -- were moving hose under the direction of Firefighter Zammarchi. They were doing all the leg work," Firefighter Cuff emphasized. "If we had to run up and down that hill, we would have been exhausted and of no further use," he said.
"The kids -- young adults really -- also dragged the big lines from house to house in the cul-de-sac for us.
"After we put out the fire here, we saw a series of fires igniting on the hillside, and there were also fires on the streets above us.
"These kids knew how to get up there, so we took some small line bundles from a Colma rig, and some of our bundles, and hooked a wye to the Multiversal, and began to scramble up the hill," Firefighter Cuff said.
It was about 30 yards uphill, at a 45-percent-or-greater grade.
"We couldn't have gotten up that hill without the kids helping us. One of the barefoot kids took a small line and climbed up to the top of the hill and tied it around the tree," Firefighter Cuff said.
"It was us and Engine 3," said Lt. Dente. "It was so steep that we had to hold on to fences along the way. We took a small line with us as we climbed and then dragged the big line up -- it was just like rapelling, it was that steep a hill to where the fire was."
The crews of Engine Companies 3 and 36 pulled themselves up this lead, "...then charged it," said Firefighter Cuff, "and extended it into a three-story Tudor-style home. We made an interior attack on that house, and we went into the garage and took the tools that were there, such as rakes and shovels, to use for knocking down the fire."
"It was chaos up there," Lt. Dente said, "We asked the citizens there to pull lines for us and put them where we wanted. There were also houses already fully involved in fire and we asked them to keep those fires from spreading to buildings that had not yet burned. I took my company into buildings I thought we could save."
"A San Bruno rig that was already up there," said Firefighter Cuff, "and that crew made a lead into a big mansion from the street while we took the small line into the back. When that fire was under control we went to the house next door where the roof caught fire -- so we put that out too. That took a while -- about a half hour. There was no time for a break before the house across the street caught fire. Crews from Engine Companies 3 and 36 -- assisted by San Bruno hose leads, attacked this fire too."
"Some other department had left five charged big lines in the area, and the kids were attempting to put out the fire," said Lt. Dente, "There were about five kids on each line and they were shooting water down the hill, and that stopped the fire from coming up the canyon."
Around 4:30 p.m., Firefighter Cuff said, "The Oakland chief [Garcia] came by and told us to begin driving around and look for fires. A diesel fuel truck driver from the East Bay Municipal Utility District came by and asked our help in getting to one of the water tanks up there to refill the generator so water could be pumped. We told him we would help him as soon as we picked up our hose. He couldn't wait and he managed to beat a path in, and when he came back he filled up our diesel tank.
"It was pretty congested up there. However, there were a couple of guys on motorcycles and we sent them ahead to scout, because they could get around, but they couldn't find any more fires, so at that point we went back to Highway 24."
Meanwhile, Engine 36 was detailed to the area of Rockridge Pl. and Rockridge Pl., South. "We used all our large line and took a lead of almost 800 feet from an Albany engine that was at Broadway and Rockridge Pl." said Lt. Dente.
"Everything along the ridge line was on fire -- all the buildings were going pretty good. We just picked a building and saved it. The fire went past us and over us; the wind speeds were up to 70 miles per hour. Fire was blowing everywhere.
"One house we were protecting didn't catch fire because it was a composition-roof building with shingle siding," he said. "We went inside and we went outside to save it -- we wet down the exterior."
Lieutenant Dente and the crew of Engine 36 remained in the area until relieved at about 9 p.m.
Engine 3 continued on patrol until 10 or 10:30 p.m., and was then sent back to the Oakland command post on state Highway 24. An hour later the engine was sent to the San Francisco command post where a relief crew from the City staffed the apparatus.
"We later went back to the staging area at the Claremont and returned to San Francisco on the Muni bus," Firefighter Cuff said.
The crews of San Francisco Engine Companies 3 and 36 were responsible for saving numerous buildings including 24 Reata Blvd., 280 Hillcrest Rd. and a residential structure on El Camino Real.