Berkeley parking enforcement vehicle catches fire

A parking enforcement vehicle caught fire in North Berkeley on Friday morning. Photo: Shan Carter

A parking enforcement vehicle caught fire in North Berkeley on Friday morning. Photo: Shan Carter

As much as everyone uniformly dreads the meter maid, vandals were not responsible for a fire Friday morning in North Berkeley that reportedly destroyed a parking enforcement vehicle.

Flames from the conflagration were large enough to set a tree on fire, which would have threatened a nearby apartment building at Walnut and Cedar streets, authorities said.

Deputy Berkeley Fire Chief Avery Webb said a parking enforcement officer had been driving the vehicle up in the Berkeley Hills and was not far from Shattuck Avenue, at about 9:10 a.m., when she smelled smoke.

“The operator was driving the vehicle, smelled smoke and stopped,” he said. “When they opened the compartment in the back, it was on fire.”

The fire sent a thick cloud of black smoke billowing up into the sky.

When firefighters arrived, flames were covering most of the vehicle, and had reached a small maple tree overhead. Firefighters from a single engine were able to extinguish both fires, Webb said.

From the preliminary investigation, he said it appeared a mechanical problem caused the fire: either the tailpipe overheated and set a plastic cabinet above it on fire, or heat from the brakes may have been the culprit.

Webb said a final determination about cause had not yet been made, but that it was clear the engine had not been involved.

“When you drive a vehicle up there in the hills it’s pretty stressful on the vehicles,” he said. Though he noted that this was the first fire associated with a city parking enforcement vehicle that he knew of.

There were no injuries as a result of the fire, said Berkeley Police Sgt. Jennifer Louis, via email.

Update, 2:05 p.m. Berkeley Police Capt. Andrew Greenwood said all of the department’s parking enforcement vehicles, which are called GO-4s, will be taken to the city’s maintenance yard today, May 30.

Each vehicle will be unloaded completely and inspected to look for any potential signs of trouble.

“We have had no other fires like that in the past, for at least 10-plus years,” Greenwood said. “This was a highly unusual event for us. We want to understand what happened.”

He said the parking enforcement officer had gone into the Berkeley Hills, to Shasta Road, Friday morning to investigate an abandoned vehicle report, which Greenwood described as “not typical” for that area.

But whether traversing the steep, winding roads contributed to the vehicle fire remains under investigation. A mechanical element on the GO-4, such as the tailpipe or muffler, may have played a role if it overheated and caused items in the vehicle storage compartment to catch fire.

Greenwood said the GO-4’s storage compartment is used to carry everything from paperwork to flares, and other items that could be flammable.

“They carry a lot of stuff in that compartment,” he said.

He said authorities continue to investigate the cause of Friday’s fire, and will check with the vendor to find out whether this has happened before, or what changes should be made to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Putting loose papers into some kind of protected tub within the storage container, for example, could limit the risk, he added.

The replacement cost of a GO-4 vehicle is roughly $30,000 to $35,000, Greenwood said.

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  • guest

    Maybe the meter maids should stay down in the flats

    We’ll call if we need you, thanks.

  • foo

    I don’t dread them; I’m glad to see them doing their job, enforcing the parking laws.

  • emraguso

    I admit, I was aiming for a playful lede. I hear you, though! I’m sure there’s ample animosity for people who flout the parking rules too, and perhaps more justifiably so!

  • Timothy Craven

    Those vehicles cost 35,000 dollars? Couldn’t they just buy a real car for a fraction of the price? What about putting parking enforcement on bicycles?

  • guest

    $35K?!? Dayum. For that kind of coin we should be able to have Elon Musk handcraft the metermaidmobile-of-the-future. Good lord.

  • Andrea

    Here’s the headline: “Parking enforcement vehicles GO-4 unlikely violations in the
    hills; attendant inflamed”

  • And heated arguments begin about how to pun-ish the person who recommended the Nova Fiero.


  • Flatland Follies

    Cool, we’ll keep the cops and the fire department too.

  • guest

    Here’s hoping.

  • guest

    You can have the bill too.

  • Brad

    Given this is a specialty vehicle the prices do not seem bad. A “real” car would not work as well — these are tricycle vehicles. Have you seen their turning radius? Also they are narrow and do not block the whole lane, etc.

    Specialty products are often expensive, as fixed costs like R&D and tooling cannot be spread across large numbers of customers.

  • Azaziel

    The meter “maid” must have left the portal from Hell open when she/he came out to start work, and the fire came through. An occupational hazard of serving Satan.

  • guest

    They are go-karts with crude suspensions and a minimum of materials. The only reason they cost $35K is because ordinary consumers aren’t making ordinary buying decisions .. instead it’s a niche market for municipalities with tax money to burn. And you have to look at the economics of Parking Enforcement too, for every vehicle they can put on the street, the more revenue they pull in .. positive ROI no matter what. Not lost on the vehicle vendor who outfits and resells these to the police.

  • Chris J

    $35k? Specialty or not, give them bikes with special panniers to carry their ticket pads. Better exercise for them. Not to mention they won’t make their rounds as fast which decreases our chance of getting ticketed. Win win!

  • guest

    Let’s hope it had an ALPR on the roof. Good riddance.

  • Martin

    I feel for them and understand they’re doing their job; however, if owners return to their vehicle as they’re getting a ticket, they should really let them off.

    I saw an elderly couple (who were in no shape to run, which if they could have they would have got there!) trying to make it back to their car (with had a handicapped sticker) which had run out of time as a parking enforcer got there and had just started writing a ticket and they were pleading not to get a ticket but the enforcer still gave it to them. I felt rather bad for them and I’ve seen this kind of thing several times before.

  • Low Altitude High Caliber

    I’ll take that deal. We’ll use the savings from not serving the hills and send buses of mentally ill street people up your way so you don’t have to come down for the Streeeeet Spiriiiit. And remember that you’re on your own when the burglaries and home invasions begin.

  • Perhaps this would be a good Segway segue

  • Bill N

    Or when the next brush fire comes up through Tilden.

  • Burn baby burn

    I used to defend these people for doing their jobs, but they park themselves 2 at a time in front of Washington Elementary at dropoff time and wait for parents to make minor infractions and write them tickets EVERY DAY!!! The city, police, parking division, administrators and anyone drawing a salary from our tax dollars should be ashamed by these actions. I’d say give these people bikes, but many are so unfit they can barely get out of their overpriced trikes to put the tickets on the windows. No doubt we’d be sued by them for harsh working conditions and inevitably one would “trip and fall” and we’d have another no longer working parasite on the dole milking a ridiculous lifelong early retirement disability pension.

  • Shadowcat

    If they had a handicap sticker they don’t need to pay for parking on a public street.

  • guest

    Call us when the sea level comes up 3 metres

  • guest

    BTW exactly where do you think the “flats” end?

  • Guest

    The obvious attempts at creating artificial hills/flats class warfare here are pretty sad.

  • Guest

    What on Earth…? You’re annoyed by enforcement of minor (but legally valid?) parking infractions, therefore you applaud vehicles catching on fire and threatening bystanders’ homes? Seriously? And how exactly is the slur re: your perception of enforcers’ fitness/physique relevant?

    I get as aggravated as the next guy (or so I thought) about heavy-handed parking enforcement, but wow. This just makes me sad.

  • EBGuy

    The million dollar homes threshold doesn’t seem to work anymore…

  • EBGuy

    I would definitely look up the infraction that they cite on the ticket. We got leafleted at the beginning of the school year and the specific parts of the municipal code that they referred to were incorrect. And even when I found the correct part of the code, it was clear that a violation had not taken place.

  • Burn baby burn

    It makes me sad too. Its sad that our city thinks it’s ok to raise revenue by writing tickets to parents that have to drive their kids past 3 walkable elementary schools and because of a very poorly thought out traffic plan are nearly unavoidable. Its sad that we spend $35k on a go cart. It’s sad that we’ve set up a system where the city pays 2x the prevailing market wage for everything. It’s sad that the pension system is rigged and setup to create perverse incentives for employees. It’s sad that i will be payin for this go cart, but like others who have commented it is enjoyable to see one of these toys to turn to toast.

    As for the “slurs” comment. Survey the population of these go cart drivers and get back to me if you think bikes are a viable option.

  • guest

    where the angle of repose begins…

    You might also recognize it as the point where you have to downshift and hit the gas.

  • guest

    The number of people who took the bait are the real indicator of sadness..

  • guest

    Great point. It really is time to end the antiquated busing system and return to letting kids walk to the schools closest to their homes. Busing is a nice option to have if that is what parents want, but if they would prefer to go to a school within walking distance of their home then they should be automatically given that as their first choice.

  • Guest

    What do you get out of baiting people like this? Do you think that trolling the comments section like this adds to the discussion in any way?

  • guest

    The “hills” demographic is moving west rapidly

  • Doc

    Particularly because every neighborhood of Berkeley has many people of success and accomplishment. The class bifurcation is a quarter century years out of date.