THEY COME AT DAY’S END TO SCAMPER up the steps carved in the south face of the rock and sit and watch the sun set. Or they come earlier in the day, often bearing crash pads, to climb on the slightly overhanging face in the grotto-like area on the back side, called “The Pit.” Sometimes they come as a class, to geologize, or to learn about the mortar rocks where, for thousands of years, the Ohlone ground acorns into mash.
The first signs of trouble were subtle. For some, it was the strange amber hue of the midday light. Others caught the distinctive scent of burning eucalyptus. By two in the afternoon of September 17, 1923, just about everyone in Berkeley had taken note of the uncommonly warm, dry wind blowing in from the northeast. What they didn’t know was that a small grass fire over the hill in Wildcat Canyon was growing fast, leaping from grass to brush to tree—and it was about to crest the hills of North Berkeley.