On October 20, 1991, the hills across the bay from San Francisco were cloaked in smoke. Flames moved up the steep slopes of Oakland and Berkeley, California, What became known as the Diablo Fire had started on Saturday, October 19, from an incompletely extinguished grass fire in the Berkeley Hills. Firefighters fought the 5-acre fire on a steep hillside and by Saturday night they thought it was under control. The fire re-ignited as a brush fire shortly before 11 a.m. on Sunday, October 20 and rapidly spread southwest, driven by wind gusts up to 65 mph. It quickly overwhelmed local and regional firefighting resources. By 11:30 a.m., the fire had spread to the nearby Parkwoods Apartments. Shortly before noon, the fire had been blown up to the top of Hiller Highlands to the west, from where it began its sweep down into the Hiller Highlands development and the southern hills of Berkeley. Burning embers from houses and vegetation were carried ahead of the fire line by torrid winds and started new blazes ahead of the original burn. Within thirty minutes the fire had crossed both Highway 24, an eight-lane freeway, and Highway 13, a four-lane freeway, eventually igniting hundreds of houses in the Forest Park neighborhood. The hot, dry northeasterly winds, dubbed as “Diablo winds” " in reference to the Diablo Mountain range and surrounding geography of same name, periodically occur during the early fall season. These are similar to the Santa Ana wind in Southern California, and have been the cause of numerous devastating fires.
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