Valma Irene King, a spunky Oakland pioneer and the oldest person to survive
the devastating 1991 East Bay hills fire, has died at the age of 103.
Known for her quick wit and tales of everything from the 1906 San Francisco
earthquake to her father's shootout with outlaw Billy the Kid, Mrs. King lost a
quick battle with pneumonia Saturday morning at Summit Medical Center.
''We'll all miss her wonderful sense of humor and her many wonderful
stories,'' said Dave Carlson, who was a neighbor of Mrs. King when the hills
fire broke out and who whisked her and her sister, Iola Imhof, to safety moments
before flames engulfed their house. ''She was one of a kind.''
Mrs. King and Imhof, who is now 97, had lived together in their Alvarado Road
bungalow for 30 years before the fire, and when they lost their home they also
lost a treasure trove of Americana handed down through their family. Among the
items burned were a tintype of their uncle serving as a midshipman on the Union
ironclad Monitor in the Civil War, and the powder horn their great-great- great
grandfather used at the American Revolution battle at Lexington.
Mrs. King's father, William Hardy, is believed to have been the first
American born in Oakland, and her grandfather, Lowell Hardy, was one of the
first settlers there, having purchased 160 acres of land in the early-1800s
Peralta land grant from Spain. The 1991 fire also burned clippings and family
records that recounted their father's shootout in Texas with Billy the Kid and
their grandfather's gunbattle in 1854 with Oakland's first mayor, Horace
Mrs. King and her sister, both remarkably self-sufficient, escaped the hills
fire with only the clothes on their backs. Their historical heritage and upbeat
attitude after the disaster drew national media attention. ''Ah, well -- gone
with the wind,'' Mrs. King was quoted as saying with a grin right after the
The sisters had lived together in the Piedmont house of a friend since the
Mrs. King was born in 1890 in the tiny Mojave Desert town of Calico, and the
family moved to Oakland in 1898. She attended Franklin Elementary and Oakland
High schools and married Ben Maddox in 1912. After he died she married Dade
King, who died in 1965.
The family lived in East Oakland during the 1906 earthquake, and in recent
years Mrs. King described how the quake-caused blaze in San Francisco ''burned
so hot you could pick up a pin at midnight by the light of the fire even over
Mrs. King is survived by her sister; her daughter, Valma Maddox Evans of
Manhattan Beach; five grandchildren and eight great- grandchildren.
She will be cremated by the Neptune Society. No service is planned.