Possible explosion causes fire under I-80 University Avenue overpass in West Berkeley

Fire by Mary under use
The fire was under the I-80 University Ave. overpass in West Berkeley. Photo: Mary Flaherty

UPDATE, 4:50 p.m.: Police activity near the University Avenue and Second Street fire has ended and all roadways are open, according to a Berkeley Police Department Nixle alert.

UPDATE, 4:45 p.m.: Police and fire investigators continue to search through the site of the fire to determine its cause and whether it is suspicious. There is no evidence so far that the fire was caused by drug activities or a meth lab, as has been reported elsewhere, said Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats. The fire happened in a fenced-off storage area under the University Avenue overpass, and a couple of people were evacuated from the area by police before the fire was extinguished, she said. Coats confirmed there was a homeless encampment at the site, and that it is believed the fire started with an explosion. Evidence of drugs had not been found at the time of writing.

ORIGINAL STORY: A fire that broke out Wednesday afternoon at around 2:45 p.m., adjacent to the University Avenue Interstate-80 overpass in West Berkeley, is being investigated as possibly having been triggered by an explosion, authorities said.

The fire, which burned several recycling bins, was under control by 3:15 p.m., according to Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong, who said it took crews 18 minutes to do so.


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The smoke that billowed from the scene of the fire was visible from far away. Photo: Mary Flaherty

Dong said police were on the scene helping firefighters investigate the blaze, as there were reports of an explosion before the fire erupted.

There were no reported injuries.

The eastbound I-80 off-ramp is closed to traffic while firefighters are on the scene, according to Dong.

The blast was reported about 2:45 p.m. near Second Street and Hearst Avenue.

Screen shot 2014-05-07 at 5.Recycling cans were burned in the fire that happened under the University Avenue overpass near 2nd Street. Photo: Brandon Poskanzer 01.39 PM
Recycling cans were burned in the fire that happened under the University Avenue overpass near 2nd Street. Photo: Brandon Poskanzer

Chief Dong said, before the fire was brought under control, it looked like it might impinge on local lumber company Truitt  & White, which is located at 642 Hearst, between Second and Third streets.

Berkeleyside contributor Mary Flaherty, who took some of the photographs here, reported seeing “floor-to-ceiling” flames between the ground and overpass, as well as a police officer appearing to detain somebody on scene.

Scene
Fire crews on scene under the University Avenue overpass. Photo: William Newton

Many readers reported seeing billowing black smoke, from the hills, and other locations around town.


The Berkeley Police Department sent out a Nixle alert at 3:20 p.m, which read: “Berkeley PD: Police activity in the area of University Avenue and 2nd Street due to possible explosion and fire.” (Sign up to receive Nixle alerts.)

Berkeley Animal Care Services posted a tweet at 3:52 p.m. to reassure people that, though they are located close to the site of the fire, at 1 Bolivar Drive, they were not affected. “The fire/explosion at 2d & Hearst in Berkeley was nearby, but everyone at Berkeley Animal Care Services is fine!” they wrote.

The homeless encampment under the University overpass has grown ever since authorities fenced off the Gilman underpass from the homeless.

Photo: Mollie Hart
The black smoke was clearly visible to people driving on I-80.Photo: Mollie Hart
This photo, taken from the Berkeley hills, shows the extent of the smoke caused by the fire. Photo: danieleran
This photo, taken from the Berkeley hills, shows the extent of the smoke caused by the fire. Photo: danieleran

This story was updated as new information became available. Read more about past Berkeley fires.

Related:
Caltrans fence forces homeless to find new places to sleep (04.10.14)
Berkeley businesses, including Wooden Duck, Joshua Tree, damaged in huge fire (04.12.14)

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