House fire on Berkeley’s Benvenue Avenue, no injuries

The home that caught fire around midnight on Tuesday night is on Benvenue Avenue in the Elmwood neighborhood. Photo: David Trachtenberg

A home caught fire on Benvenue Avenue just north of Ashby in the early hours of Wednesday.

Eyewitnesses say the house in question was 2924 Benvenue and report seeing a significant blaze. A neighbor who lives on Ashby Avenue said she was woken by sirens and the smell of smoke inside her home at roughly 12:20 am on Wednesday.

According to a Bay City News report, the occupants of the single-family home were able to escape from the house uninjured and initial reports suggest that the three-alarm fire may have been caused by a propane tank in the rear of the house. According to one source, one of the occupants of the home was a wheelchair user and the fire police department got her safely out of the house.

Update, 10.55am: Five relatives escaped from the duplex home, including one in a wheelchair who was rescued by the Berkeley Police who were first on the scene, according to NBC Bay Area. Firefighters were still on the scene at 10:15 am Wednesday morning. They say they will have to excavate the back of the house to find the source of the fire and estimate the damage to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The house on Benvenue at around 8.15 am Wednesday morning. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

View a photo gallery of the fire by Rory Merry.

Read a comprehensive history of the house at 2924 Benvenue Avenue, which was designed for accessible living in 1911, by Daniella Thompson. (Hat-tip: Neal Parish)

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  • Voltagesurge
  • Guest

    We could see it from our house on the hill overlooking Elmwood, and I am amazed to hear that it was only one house involved. It was a gigantic blaze! The firefighters did an amazing job preventing it from spreading. From our vantage point, we would have sworn that half a block was ablaze.

  • Quinteroron

    My property is right across to the back, I saw as the bursting flame (like-a-torch-gun-used-in-Vietnam-war) erupted right to the side of our house. Believe it or not, we had to climb on the roof on our house to hose the roofs as ambers were landing all over the place. I’m not a firefighters but I feel I nearly have the instint of one and I was a bit ageavated to see how long it took them to start ceasing it down, I even heard one of the firefighters yelled at the captain to release water on the hose and there was a good 15 minutes time lapsed that no action was being taken. I tell you, it could have spread easily!

  • serkes

    Detectors saves lives because they save time … test your detectors and update the old ones)

    SMOKE DETECTORS (Photo electric, not ionization)

  • AlanTobey

     Right idea — as a Red Cross volunteer responder to fires like these I’ve often heard the incident commanders say they’ve never seen a fatality in a house with working smoke alarms. In the end that’s what matters.

  • I live on Hillegass and it was a terrifying experience. God Bless the Berkeley Fire Department.

  • Thompson

    It’s actually not a bad idea to have both PE and ionization detectors.  The former will alert more quickly on smoldering fires, the latter on quick burning fires.  I have a PE in my living room / kitchen area (as they are much less likely to accidentally alert from cooking), and an ionization in my bedroom.

  • Rachel Anderson

    But may I suggest, avoid the Kidde PE120 PE smoke detector.  If my tale (and many Amazon reviews) are any indicator, they have a high rate of defective models.  I’ve already have five defective models go off in the middle of the night — setting off all of the wired detectors — in the last year alone.

  • Bishop Berkeley

    I was a little curious about the water situation as well.  The blaze was in full bloom, seven or eight engines were on scene, dozens of firefighters present, and I couldn’t see any water coming from the Benvenue side.  I heard a few firefighters shouting about the location(s) of fire hydrants and there seemed to be some confusion.  I had time to run back to my house a block away, put on shoes, grab a camera, and run back…and they were still walking hoses up Benvenue to the hydrant at Russell.

    Now — let me emphasize that it’s just curiosity on my part, not criticism.  I watched how long it took to get this thing under control, and I gotta say — to the untrained eye this was an intense, STUBBORN fire.  I don’t think even 10 minutes would have changed a thing.  The fire was roaring, and it kept roaring while firefighters tried just about everything.  They must have chainsawed half the roof open before the tide began turning.  This is/was a very long building that almost fills the lot; it was incredibly fortunate that BFD was able to get an engine up to the back of the lot from Ashby.  Impressive firefighting.

  • We heard the sirens loud and clear (we’re at College and Prince) last night, and I was wondering what was going on — I hoped you guys would have information this morning. Way to be on top of the reporting, Berkeleyside!

  • Jamberry123

    Berkeley firefighters and police were spectacular last night.  It was absolutely terrifying to watch this fire roar on and on despite so much water/foam/etc.  We are in good hands! Thank you.

  • serkes

    Program your cell phone with the Berkeley Emergency Number 510-981-5911

    Calls to 911 from a cell phone go to California Highway Patrol – calling the Berkeley emergency number goes directly to Berkeley dispatcher.|


  • Note to self:  “Check Smoke Detectors!”.  And major kudos to the BFD.  And to Jehovah / Allah / God / Yahweh / Mother Nature for it being a windless night, or it could have been much worse.

    I heard from several people there that there was trouble getting enough water for the water cannon.  Perhaps this is just a meritless rumor, but it certainly warrants investigation.

    I’m grateful that everyone is OK. 

  • Guest

     Done! And, thank you. I just got a new cell phone a couple of weeks ago, and I haven’t updated my contacts yet.

  • Bishop Berkeley

    Wow, thank you.  Absolutely fascinating.  What a history!

  • NAParish

    I claim no authorship of, or other interest in, that article (which, I agree, is fascinating) — I was just trying to find a good pre-fire picture of the house on Google, and the article popped up in my search.

  • serkes

    I put the Berkeley Emergency Number “below the fold” so I have to scroll past the 1st page of Favorite (yes, add it as a favorite) so I don’t accidentally hip dial.


  • serkes

    We had an awful house fire on our block.

    Things we learned 

    Pressure for EBMUD pressure/flow tests. You want them to make sure that the water main will deliver sufficent water flow for the fire engines.  

    PSI – Water Pressure doesn’t mean much – you can have a high water pressure but clogged pipes, so you don’t get sufficient flow.

    Many homes in Berkeley have high water pressure (PSI) which causes premature failure of faucet washers; it’s an easy fix to have a plumber put in a water pressure regulator (and consider an automatic seismic gas shut off valve at the same time

    The hydrant was nearby … but it was a faulty hydrant.  I don’t thing the fire fighters were able to get the flow they needed from the hydrant, and had to use a different one and/or water from the truck

    The fire fighters are the ones who told us that detectors save lives because they save time. I forget the actual rate, but it was something astonishing such as doubling in size every few minutes (or even faster)

    In any case, that’s why I post a Smoke Detector/Carbon Monoxide Detector reminder whenever Berkeleyside has a story about fires (and I wish there were fewer fires)

    Many of us have taken CERT Training … it’s free and interesting … the classes fill early.  There’s a fire safety class on 6 Oct (not sure if there’s space)

    Perhaps a topic for a future Berkeleyside article?

    Start a block association … or join the one for your block.  I used google groups; just email or call me if you’d like tips

    Ira Serkes

  • the deer.

    Ira, thank you for this tip, it is VERY wise!

  • home is where you are.

    So sad to see this happen to this venerable piece of classic Berkeley history. We used to live directly across the street, myself for 11 years. It was a sweet place with visiting thinkers and a high philosophical presence. It was home to the Institute for the Study of Consciousness. It was very special.