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There was an emotional reunion when the Park District firefighters who had been trapped reported to a command post set up at Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Fish Ranch Road. Other District firefighters had heard reports of fatalities, but no names had been given and radio contact was impossible. From fire lines on Grizzly Peak Boulevard, they could see down into the inferno, and feared their friends had died.

Rosario, Wilson and McCormick were sent back into the burn area with an Oakland firefighter to check on a report of a firefighter down. They found Battalion Chief James Riley and a woman he had been helping to evacuate, both dead. It appeared that a falling power line had electrocuted them.

Firefighters_at_Claremont_staging_113211_0011The Oakland firefighter was very distraught; besides Riley’s great popularity and respect department-wide, he had been a personal friend. Another victim of the fire was Oakland Police Officer John Grubensky, whose body was found on Charing Cross Road.

The next two or three days, the firefighters received various assignments, putting out spot fires. Along with the tragedy, there were moments of comic relief. Wilson remembers spending the night with a crew at property off Grizzly Peak Boulevard. The residents owned some St. Bernard dogs and peacocks. Freed from their enclosures during the fire, the animals burst out of the brush, peacocks pursued by dogs. The firefighters could hear birds and dogs running off into the distance, then returning to their home, bursting through the brush again, dogs still in pursuit. “It was the most bizarre thing you would expect at three in the morning,” Wilson said.

Continued... >> Holding the perimeter

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