With wildfires more frequent, destructive, and fast-moving than ever, we all must change how we prepare and respond. Learn about “Extreme Fire Weather.” Know your Zonehaven evacuation zone. Ensure you are signed up for AC Alerts.
As wildfires become more frequent and severe, Berkeley residents should learn key fire weather terms, sign up for emergency notifications, look up their evacuation zone, and make plans to leave the hills during “Extreme Fire Weather.”
During "Extreme Fire Weather" - rare periods defined by the Berkeley Fire Department as having extremely low humidity and high winds - residents living in hillside fire zones are advised to make plans to stay elsewhere.
The hot and dry conditions under Extreme Fire Weather allow fire to easily ignite and rapidly spread, posing particular risk to those in Berkeley Fire Zones 2 and 3, hills neighborhoods with narrow roadways that pose evacuation challenges.
Evolving fire threat demands a greater response
Fire weather is now more common and as a result, so are catastrophic wind-driven fires. California’s five largest fires to date all occurred in the last five years.
With each wildfire, we learn more about how our response must adapt. One key lesson is that community members and emergency responders must take action based on weather conditions rather than waiting for a fire to ignite.
A wildfire driven by hot, dry "Diablo" winds can spread so quickly that even those who have taken all the traditional steps to prepare may not have time to evacuate safely after a fire starts.
In these extreme wind-driven fires, there may not be time for traditional notifications for evacuation advisories and warnings. Instead, the first alert you receive may be an order to immediately evacuate.
The most dangerous fire weather conditions are predictable and rare
The Berkeley Fire Department has identified the types of very dry, windy conditions that create Extreme Fire Weather.
Fires that spread during Extreme Fire Weather conditions can quickly become catastrophic. The 1991 Oakland/Berkeley hills fire, as well as most of California's recent firestorms, ignited when conditions were within Berkeley's Extreme Fire Weather thresholds.
Berkeley last experienced Extreme Fire Weather in 2020, when there were two days of such conditions.
Red Flag vs. Extreme Fire Weather
The National Weather Service declares a "Red Flag Warning" when regional forecasts show elevated fire risk conditions.
For an in-depth look at how weather conditions translate to fire risk, watch our video, Fire weather in Berkeley: Red Flag Warnings, Extreme Fire Weather, and when to leave the hills.
Extreme Fire Weather is far more rare than Red Flag Warnings. In 2020, Berkeley had 25 days of Red Flag conditions, but only 2 days of Extreme Fire Weather.
Berkeley residents should stay on heightened alert during every Red Flag Warning:
- Keep your phone on and with you at all times
- Avoid activities that could cause a spark
- Be prepared to rapidly evacuate if necessary
We send AC Alert notifications over text, email and the Everbridge mobile app for every Red Flag Warning affecting Berkeley. We also post notices on our website.
The Berkeley Fire Department follows up on each "Red Flag Warning" and requests a "spot forecast" for specific Berkeley locations to help pinpoint the level of local threat to our community.
When spot forecasts predict local Extreme Fire Weather conditions, we activate our Emergency Operations Center and increase fire responders, fire apparatus, and police and fire patrols in the hills. These increased staff patrol to identify fires or risky activities, as well as to provide additional law enforcement presence while homes are unoccupied. We also keep the community up-to-date with AC Alert notifications.
Make a plan to leave the hills during Extreme Fire Weather
The Berkeley Fire Department recommends residents make plans to leave the hills during periods of Extreme Fire Weather. This puts you in the most control and is the best way to ensure your safety.
The narrow, winding street network in the Berkeley hills – combined with the rapid fire spread likely in these conditions – means that once a fire ignites, evacuating in a car won’t be an option for everyone.
The decision of “when to leave” is personal to each household. Understand that waiting for a fire to ignite means you will need to be ready to leave on foot. If that poses a problem for anyone in your home, it’s safest to stay outside of the hills during Extreme Fire Weather conditions.
Leaving early in Extreme Fire Weather gives you the most control over how you will get down the hill and what you can bring. If you leave after a fire starts, you may not be able to get out with your car, so you must be prepared to evacuate on foot.
Plan when you’ll leave and where you’ll go. Talk to friends and family who you might be able to stay with, or start putting aside money now to stay in a hotel. In an evacuation, we will set up mass care sites for people who have no place to go, but these will take time to set up and will rarely be your most comfortable option.
More steps to prepare your household for wildfires
Planning to leave the hills during Extreme Fire Weather is only one part of taking control. Everyone should:
- Know your Zonehaven evacuation zone so you can quickly identify it in emergency alerts. Bookmark the site on your computer and phone to find real-time updates during a fire. Write down your zone on your fridge.
- Sign up at ACalert.org to receive emergency alerts from Berkeley and Alameda County.
- Use our fire weather planning tool and step-by-step video guide to create a household fire weather plan: Decide ahead of time what steps your household will take during Red Flag Warnings and Extreme Fire Weather. For hills residents, identify your trigger for leaving.
- Learn how to remove brush, debris and other fire fuels on our Vegetation Management page.
- Fire Weather and Evacuation Page
- Know your Zonehaven evacuation zone number to identify your neighborhood in emergency alerts
- Use our 1-page Wildfire evacuation checklist: PDF | MS Word to track key tasks for evacuation
- Use our Fire weather planning tool to plan when you’ll leave, where you’ll stay and your evacuation routes on foot or by car.
- Vegetation Management: remove debris, trim plants, and prune trees help protect your home from a spreading fire