KTVU Reporter Rob Roth remembers his encounter with the East Bay Hills Fire

The fire actually started the day before—Saturday afternoon October 19.

KTVU Cameraman Nick Soares and I were on our way to the Cal-Washington football game when we saw fire engines racing into the hills. We followed.

There were no winds that day and that helped keep the fire from getting any worse.

An air tanker hit a bull's-eye and the fire appeared to be out. No damage done. At the time it all seemed barely worth mentioning.

The next morning, on Sunday, Nick and I found firefighters combing through the canyon looking for hotspots, but I had something else on my mind. This was also the due date for my wife's and my first baby. I was hoping to finish early in case she went into labor.

By 10 a.m. it was getting windy out on the canyon. Another fire crew was dealing with a minor flare up down the canyon above Buckingham Boulevard.

You could see flames poking up, but it didn't look like anything the firefighters couldn't handle.

But in what seemed an instant everything changed.  The wind seemed to come in from all directions at once; strong, swirling winds. The kind that blew sand and dust in your eyes

On the canyon the wind acted like someone was pouring gasoline from the sky. Then came that sound, the relentless rumble of 1,000 bass drums. You could not hear anything above that sound. It remains my most vivid memory of that day.

By 11 o'clock smoke began turning day into night.  A wall of smoke had sealed off everything to our right including our news car.

The fire was in full rage, stretching out to our left. Behind us was a sheer drop and with that sound at full blast, the smoke and fire was tumbling down toward us. It was getting hotter.

Nick and I looked at each other.  We've never spoken to each other about this part, but in that look we both came to the same realization: there was no way out.

I remember saying to myself this can't really be happening not on the day my baby is due.
At that moment a small fire truck with four firefighters on it came out of the smoke looking like Bogart in the last scene of Casablanca. A battalion chief said hop on.

We would learn later these were the last people to make it out in this direction that day. Firefighters begin evacuating people along the hillside.

Moments after we got on the truck, the man who invited us to hop on got off to help some frightened residents. We never saw a Battalion Chief James Riley again.

That night, police found the body of James Riley near the remains of a woman he was trying to save.

Nick and I finally hooked up with a Channel 2 crew and begin filing live reports from the burning hills.
Both of us were feeling sick from swallowing so much smoke, but we survived.

Eight days later, firefighters from throughout California attended the funeral of James Riley, a man everyone described as simply a great guy.

Even though I only knew him briefly, I wanted to go, but I couldn't.

I couldn't go to the funeral because on that very same day my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I have been forever grateful to have been there when she was born.

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