May 15, 2023

Pipe damage creates 'neighborhood hazard' near origin of the 1991 Oakland firestorm, the city's deadliest wildfire

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- A mile from the origin of Oakland's deadliest wildfire, another fire hazard is looming. Damage to pipes supplying water to fire hydrants and Caldecott Field is threatening the safety of a wildfire-prone neighborhood, city officials told the I-Team.

According to the city, the two pipes broke months ago during the torrential atmospheric river. It added that the storms resulted in significant sliding activity on the hill that created logistical challenges.

"This is what the infield will look like if we don't water the field," said DeAndre Calhoun, the president of the North and South Oakland Little League as he pointed to dirt on the ground. "A lot of uncertainty if the city of Oakland will ever do anything about it."

Calhoun says after a half-dozen attempts to get answers from the city's public works department, it's still unclear when the water will be turned back on.

The I-Team visited the site and found the pipes aren't even visible. The fire line is severed and the field coordinator is concerned the backup water tank for the high-fire threat area is at risk of collapsing due to erosion from the storms.

MORE: Thousands of fire hydrants across East Bay go uninspected annually, public records show

"They need to get moving on this," said Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb, who represents the area. "It may have been the right thing, but we can't just let it sit and not take action."

Kalb says since the hillside is already weakened from the storms, public works determined keeping the water off would prevent a safety hazard.

"They want to make sure if there's water flowing into the area, that the water flowing from those pipes doesn't add to the risk, determining whether there's some potential for a mudslide or landslide," said Kalb.

The irony is preventing this hazard may create another one.

CAL FIRE defines the area around the North Oakland Regional Sports Center off Highway 24, north of the Caldecott Tunnel, as a "high or very high fire severity zone" - just a mile away is the Oak Hills Fire Memorial Park, also known as the Firestorm Memorial Garden.

"It's actually right in the middle of the entire firestorm area," said Kalb.

The city's deadliest wildfire started as a grass fire northeast of Highway 24, north of the Caldecott Tunnel. It was extinguished, but then reignited. It didn't take long for burning embers and overgrown vegetation to blow up, pushing flames across several freeways, including Highway 24.

VIDEO: 31 years later, Oakland Hills firestorm victims worry lessons learned are now 'forgotten'

"I was here in the '80s and '90s when there were big issues around fire and not having access to means to put them out," Calhoun said.

The city confirmed the water supply has also been cut to fire hydrants on the property. The field coordinator says he's concerned this will impact other hydrants down the street. Last year, the I-Team requested the number of hydrant inspections conducted along 46 roads that burned down in the firestorm. We found East Bay Mud only conducted 17 inspections since 2021.

"We're in bad shape and it can lead to disaster," said Calhoun.

"Will you make it a priority to make sure this gets resolved?" ABC7's Stephanie Sierra asked.

"It's a priority and we need to get it done," said Kalb.

A priority for public safety and the community.

The league is made up of 1,000 kids who use the field for recreational sports and was one of only three in the country to receive a $20,000 grant to renovate the field. But, Calhoun says with the water off it's already starting to deteriorate.

The city's public works department told us they're looking into alternative ways they can source water to the fire hydrants and Caldecott field by coordinating with East Bay Mud and the Oakland Fire Dept.

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