Defensible space aids in battling Oakland hills fire chief says

Oakland's Fire Chief says the fire that damaged three homes Thursday appears to have been an accident. 

He also credited homeowners for complying with defensible space preparations, saying that "truly made a difference"in firefighters' efforts to prevent the flames from spreading. 

A column of black smoke rising from the Oakland hills was visible from miles away Thursday, as firefighters got the call at 4:17 p.m. about a burning house on Aitken Drive near Evergreen Avenue.

About 50 firefighters responded to the three-alarm fire, concerned that flames could spread in the wooded area to nearby homes.

Sitting inside his Oakland home Thursday afternoon, Kevin Becraft says he suddenly heard a crackling sound outside.

"I came out on the deck and that's when I saw the column of smoke coming out of the house," said Becraft, "Within minutes while I was standing there, it was up in flames."

"The eaves of the roof next door had caught on fire and there was a dog in that house, so they were trying to rescue the dog so it was kind of crazy," said Becraft's wife, Korin.

"I heard a big boom and then there was a bunch of black smoke coming out of there. I rushed to the balcony, I called my mom," said Augustin Dagron, who lives up the street.

Jim Hendrickson says his heart goes out to his neighbors who lost their home. He also has gratitude for fire crews who saved his house next door.

"They broke down the garage door and took out the windows to be able to shoot water and the next door neighbors house," said Hendrickson, "They shot to the side above to make sure it didn't spread to either house. In my mind there were heroes."

The threat of fire is always a terrifying concern for residents, remembering the deadly 1991 Oakland hills fire.

Oakland's Fire Chief Reginald Freeman says the recent rain helped.

Even more important, he says, is that residents had prepared in advance by clearing brush and creating defensible space around their houses.

"Clearing space around their properties up to 15 feet truly made a difference," said Chief Freeman, ,"We were able to get in and get a good knock on the fire to minimize property loss. So we really appreciate our residents doing our part."

The chief says no one was injured, and the fire crews were able to rescue one dog.

The fire inspector says that due to the steep terrain and the level of destruction, it will be difficult to examine the scene for evidence. He says all signs so far point to an accidental fire.