The Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm incinerated my house 30 years ago

Frances Dinkelspiel and Gary Wayne standing in front of their home, October 1991

As smoke swirled above me and blotted out the October sun and sirens filled the air, I lay flat on my back on Ashby Avenue near College, my hands pressing down on my lower stomach. I had just discovered two days earlier that I was pregnant with my first child, and I was so overcome with nausea that I couldn’t stay standing.

I didn’t know where my husband was. We had raced back from San Francisco as soon as we had seen the huge plume of smoke billowing above the East Bay hills, desperate to reach our house and our cat. We couldn’t get anywhere close. After we parked on Ashby, Gary told me he was going to try and reach our home on Alvarado Road, more than 2 miles away, on foot if necessary. The thought of leaving our cat Mookie Wilson Wayne to die on his own was too painful to consider.

“Don’t die,” I said as I squeezed his arm hard. “Remember we have a child to think of.”

Even as the words left my mouth, I thought of how strange it was to say that. There was no longer just two to think about.

No one else knew I was pregnant. Gary and I had been eating brunch at Zuni Café in San Francisco with both sets of our parents when the Oakland-Berkeley hills fire exploded around 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 20, 1991, the flames fanned by the 89-degree temperature and Diablo winds of 35 miles an hour. Gary’s parents were visiting from New Jersey, but we kept mum about the pregnancy because it was so new.

After we finished eating and stepped out onto Market Street, we could see a tower of dark smoke in the distance filling the sky.

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