Berkeley hills evacuees express no regrets in fleeing fire danger

The Doubletree Berkeley Marina Hotel served as at least one unofficial evacuation point Sunday night and Monday for many residents of the Berkeley hills.

"We just decided to err on the cautious side and not evacuate in the middle of a fire just in case," said guest Debbie Kendall.

Faced with howling gusty winds and extreme fire conditions in the Berkeley hills, Kendall, her husband, and their golden retriever Sammy decided to leave their home on Grizzly Peak and spend the night in the relative safety of a hotel.

"There is such high anxiety up there when everything is dry," she said.

With the conditions dangerously ripe for a wind-driven wildfire, the City of Berkeley advised residents living in two particular zones in the hills to leave the area Sunday rather than risk a mass evacuation if disaster struck.

"Didn't get much sleep last night. Not only because of the wind, but the concern over what could happen," said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin.

That concern, and with the endorsement of the fire department and other emergency agencies, the city issued the pre-emptive advisory for the first time before a fire even started. It was not a mandatory evacuation.

"This is unprecedented. We would not have advised residents to leave their homes before Sunday afternoon if we didn't think there was a significant risk to their safety. Thankfully, we did not have a fire in Berkeley," Arreguin said.

Residents in the Oakland hills and parts of Contra Costa County also received recommendations to evacuate particularly those who may have trouble leaving home in a hurry. But those notices were less urgent.

"To urge them all in unison without a direct point to go to could cause even more concern or fear or confusion," said Oakland Fire Department spokesman Michael Hunt.

But many who did leave say they have no regrets.

"Some people may think it was excessive to take a step like this. But better safe than sorry," said Richard Lopez

With the extreme winds had calmed somewhat, the Berkeley mayor said Monday it was safe for people to return home. But he says they to remain cautious throughout the red flag warning.