Sirens sounded from Missouri Flat Road today, and I wondered if they were related to the CalFire helicopters carrying water to the Caldor fire a few miles away. A few people have already been injured in the fire, and panicked residents are beginning to drive out of this area in case they need to evacuate their homes and businesses. The sirens may be on ambulances, police cars, or fire engines.
Being close to a wildfire is certainly a terrifying experience, but it is entirely new to me. Why, then, does it somehow seem so familiar? Then I realized—the sirens brought back the same dread I felt almost thirty years ago, when an earthquake struck the Bay area.
Harold and I lived in Alameda then, only a few miles from the freeway that joined the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. I had picked him up from work, and as we were driving home, the car seemed to fall into a ditch, then recover. Harold swore and said something unkind about my driving. Then we saw that all the traffic lights were out. Sirens were sounding in the distance. By the time we got home we realized there must have been an earthquake.
Evening came on, our electricity was off, and we sat in the dark listening to the sirens and wondering how bad the quake had been. Battery-operated radio reports gave only a little information at first, but it sounded as if large parts of San Francisco and East Bay cities might have been leveled. After a few hours, the power came on and we were able to get a few television reports showing newscasters standing precariously on the edges of the broken Bay Bridge and below the collapsed freeway. The sirens continued in the distance. The next day we learned sad news of some Alamedans’ deaths below the freeway.
It was only a few days before recovery began. Bad as the quake had been, it was at least not a repetition of the 1906 disaster. Rebuilding the bridge and freeway completely took years, partly because citizens and planners typically disagreed on how they should look, but it did happen. By about 2000 it was finished. There was even a silver lining from my viewpoint: To provide immediate access to The City from the East Bay, the SeaBees came in to build a temporary ferry terminal not far from our Alameda home. The ferry rapidly became my favorite method of getting to San Francisco, as I could savor the view of the Bay while drinking coffee and writing. Later the ferry was replaced with more elaborate boats, and a permanent terminal was built. Another one in Oakland helped provide the triangle of today’s Alameda-Oakland-San Francisco Ferry, beloved by commuters and the occasional savvy tourist.
Though the destruction of these human-made structures was costly in lives and money, the end result for the infrastructure was acceptable. Few drivers on the freeway and bridge today think about the 1989 collapse, but I can still hear the sirens. Worse, I am reminded of another natural disaster, the destruction of our natural environment occurring not far away from my home in the Sierras now. Thousands of acres of trees and associated communities of plants and animals will come back from the fire eventually, too late for me to see it happen. There is plenty of blame to go around. Human-caused climate change has added to natural cycles of drought and abundant water; logging companies used clear-cutting for many years; then we environmentalists urged too many controls over logging. Among us we destroyed what took thousands of years to create.
Copyright © August 20, 2021 by Carol Leth Stone (a.k.a. RovinCrone)