OAKLAND -- Vandals stole seven bronze bars from the Oakland hills firestorm memorial this week, leaving those who maintain the sculpture scrambling to raise thousands of dollars to replace the pieces.

Wednesday's theft was the second time in three years that metal objects have been stolen from the memorial garden, likely for their cash value. Bronze usually sells for about the same as copper, about $4 pound, said Gordon Piper, chair of the Oakland Landscape Committee, which maintains the sculpture.

Piper said he found marks on the memorial's walkway from what looked like heavy equipment and saw marks on the memorial itself where the bars had been severed. Seven were missing and one was in the gravel in front of the sculpture, he said.

The vandalism is not the first time the memorial sculpture has been damaged, but it is the most severe. In the past, vandals have bent bars, but this is the first time they have been removed.

Piper said he will do his best to keep the memorial open to the public.

"My feeling is I am going to try to repair it. I don't have the luxury of a lot of funds, but I've seen the community come forward when I built this garden after the firestorm," Piper said. "I want to restore this garden and honor those who died or lost their possessions in the fire."

The bars symbolically depict a scorched eucalyptus tree and the new growth that followed the 1991 blaze that killed 25 people, including a fire chief and a police officer.

Piper said he noticed Tuesday that four of the bars at the Tunnel Road and Hiller Drive site were bent. On Wednesday, he found two more bent bars. When he visited the sculpture Thursday morning, he found that eight branches had been sawed off, and made a police report, he said.

"It's an insult to the 25 people who lost their lives in the fire," Piper said.

The fire that began Oct. 20, 1991, destroyed more than 3,000 houses and caused $1.5 billion in damages. It was at the time the worst urban wildfire in California history. The memorial was dedicated in 1994, with most of the labor and materials donated.

To donate to the fund covering the cost of creating new branches for the sculpture, send a check payable to Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation, 33 Hiller Drive, Oakland, CA 94618.