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Moraga Fire and Evacuation Shocks Community

Stephanie Liu, Copy Editor

// While wildfires from previous years such as the Paradise fire in 2018 and the Santa Rosa fire in 2017 were disastrous, they were relatively far removed from the Lamorinda community. However, just two days ago, on Thursday, Oct. 10, a fire in Moraga near Merrill Circle and the subsequent evacuation serve as a shocking reminder of just how imminent and local the wildfire threat is.

   According to Shift Battalion Chief Jerry Lee, the fire was reported to the Moraga-Orinda Fire Department at 12:54 a.m., and they immediately dispatched a full vegetation response.

   Because of the fire’s location, the Moraga-Orinda Fire Department was not the only fire department to send firefighters.

   “It’s what we call a mutual threat area, so that means that technically it’s in the jurisdiction of Moraga and Orinda and it’s the responsibility of our fire district to take care of it but if it grows beyond that, it has the potential to hit state land,” Lee said. “Because of that, in addition to our local resources or response, we received a full Cal Fire response as well.”

   In addition to fighting the fire, the firefighters on the scene determined that the fire threatened nearby houses and notified the police supervisor to evacuate individuals living in Merrill Circle and Sanders Ranch road. One such individual, Campolindo junior Marit Ullrich, recounts the evacuation experience.

   “We heard about the fire through a friend who had been watching the fire trucks pass by. She texted us around 2 o’clock in the morning and we immediately started loading two cars. We drove out of town up Canyon Road into Montclair and parked in a Safeway lot,” Ullrich said.

   The evacuation caused an understandable amount of emotional distress.

   “I had never felt that level of anxiety in my life. I had been worried about previous fires in Moraga before that were farther away, but the fact that my own home was threatened I felt a new level of shock. The worst part was waiting to hear if I had lost everything, or that my friends weren’t okay. I can only describe the feeling as a numb sense of disbelief. Thinking that I might not have a house or even neighborhood to come home to was terrible,” Ullrich said.

   Fortunately, there was no damage to any residential structures, and the residents were able to return to their homes once the fire was contained a few hours later. 

   As of now, the cause of the fire is unclear and currently under investigation, according to Lee.

   Since the fire occurred in the midst of PG&E’s power outage, there was an added level of anxiety surrounding the evacuation.

   “The power shutdown might have been more effective if the extreme winds they promised had actually occurred. I see the reasoning behind it, but in retrospect, it was more of an inconvenience, especially when it came to evacuation. Having no light made it dangerous to collect items in a hurry,” Ullrich said.

   Although the fire didn’t damage much property or even touch residential buildings, the shock spurred community members to be more vigilant towards fire threats. Lee especially emphasizes the importance of being prepared for a wildfire.

   “Be prepared and self-sufficient for a minimum of 72 hours in case of a wildfire or power outage… Also, make sure your home is what we would call fire safe, so make sure you do your fuel abatement around the property. Because I think a lot of what the homeowners did there definitely helped the survivability of the fire yesterday,” Lee said.

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