OAKLAND -- Sue and Gordon Piper of Oakland lost their home in the 1991 Oakland hills firestorm and have been campaigning since to make sure that it never happens again.
The Gateway Emergency Preparedness Center near the Caldecott Tunnel that Gordon Piper helped create was the scene Sunday of an event publicizing a mail-in ballot measure that would continue the funding of a wildfire prevention program.
The gathering coincided with the 22nd anniversary of the firestorm that killed 25 residents, destroyed 3,400 dwellings and caused $1.5 billion in property damage.
The measure would renew a program for 10 years that provides brush clearing, fire break maintenance, roving patrols during fire season and other
Next month, the ballot will go to 40,000 hills voters in 26,000 properties from Berkeley south to San Leandro.
The assessment would raise $1.7 million annually. Homeowners would pay $78 a year, with a $39.50 annual cost for condominiums and $31 for unimproved lots.
"For older voters who were here in 1991, it's a no-brainer," said Sue Piper, who co-chairs the campaign Keep Oakland Firesafe 2013.
The canyon leading up to the Caldecott Tunnel has been the site of six destructive fires since 1937.
In 1991, high temperatures and low humidity combined with winds of up to 65 mph and an abundance of dry underbrush combined to create an inferno that burned out of control until prevailing winds shifted direction.
Brush-clearing and other efforts have helped prevent another major blaze anywhere in the East Bay hills since then, Sue Piper said.
As an example, she said using goat herds to eat underbrush helped prevent a fire in Oakland's Joaquin Miller Park from getting out of control earlier this year.
"Fires are a result of topography, weather and fuel," Sue Piper said. "We can't do anything about the topography and the weather, but we can eliminate the fuel that allows a fire to burn."
Campaign co-chairman Ken Benson said the assessment is "an enterprise fund in the hills that can only be used by the residents who pay for it.
"The money can't be used to trim trees in the flatlands," Benson said. "It's like fire insurance for $6.50 a month."
Oakland City Council members Libby Schaaf -- whose father lost his home in the 1991 fire -- and Dan Kalb also turned out in support on Sunday, a warm day like Oct. 20, 1991, but without the gusting winds.
"We need to remember the past as we look to the future," Kalb said. "It's a modest amount given the fire danger."