We must have been talking about scary things the day I visited my Aunt Rina on Kains Avenue in Berkeley, and she told me about the day a big black cloud of smoke headed toward her home.

Fire was roaring down the hills toward West Berkeley. She put her two infant sons in a buggy and raced toward the bay. She told me the story some 24 years ago, and the memory returned recently as I looked through old newspapers.

"1,000 Berkeley Homes Burned," read the Oakland Tribune headline Sept. 18, 1923.

My aunt didn't tell me that. She only remembered the wind changed, and she could return home.

It turned out that some 600 homes were burned. Nobody was killed, though eyewitnesses claimed they saw people jumping out of windows into the flames.

The fire started on the afternoon of Sept. 17. The next day the Tribune published pictures of blocks of burned homes with only brick chimneys and collapsed rock walls outlining where they once stood.

"Shortly after 2 p.m. a pall of smoke began to appear above the Berkeley hills from a grass and forest fire, its origin still unknown, in Wildcat Canyon or beyond. It came over the crest of hills and simultaneously along the whole mile-long front, the northern end a little south of the Summit reservoir, the southern end opposite La Loma Park.

"With almost the rapidity of lightning it roared down the Berkeley hills slope setting fire within five minutes to several residences in the neighborhood of Tamalpais, Tallac and Shasta roads. Driven by wind it bore due south leaving untouched beside it the Cordonices Club and the neighboring districts through Claremont, Northbrae and Thousand Oaks. But from the Berryman Reservoir and La Loma Park where it first cut into the more thickly populated districts its progress was of terrific speed," reported the Tribune.

Firefighters from across the Bay Area came to try to put out the fire. But there wasn't enough water. A fire chief said if they'd had the whole bay at their disposal it wouldn't have been enough.

At one point firefighters lost control to a group of young men who appeared in front of the Garden Court apartments at 1747 Euclid Ave. with kegs of dynamite.

"With four blasts they succeeded in leveling the apartment house ... the sparks and cinders aroused by the explosives lighted new fires farther on. The men were not identified. Their efforts to continue dynamiting abruptly halted by Fire Chief Sam Short of the Oakland department and Police Sergeant Oscar Puizker of Berkeley. No arrests were made."

All of Berkeley could have gone up in flames if the wind direction hadn't changed in the late afternoon. Downtown and the UC Berkeley campus escaped the flames. The fire did not get past Hearst Street to the south and Oxford Street to the west.

But 1,000 UC students and Benjamin Ide Wheeler, president emeritus, became homeless.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.