Man killed in fire after Berkeley firefighters were blocked from entering because house was crammed with stuff

A Berkeley man was killed in a fire on Acton Street on Dec. 27. Photo: Lee Fenyves
A Berkeley man was killed in a fire on Acton Street on Dec. 27. Photo: Lee Fenyves

A 78-year-old Berkeley man was killed in a fire Sunday morning and he might have died because he hoarded so much stuff that firefighters could not enter his home, according to officials.

The Fire Department was notified of a blaze in a home at 2817 Acton St. between Oregon and Russell streets at 4:47 a.m. on Dec. 27, according to Interim Deputy Fire Chief Donna McCracken. Flames were shooting out of the home’s windows when firefighters arrived at the scene.

The Fire Department received word that a person was still in the building.

“Fire Department personnel went into ‘rescue mode’ with the intent to enter, rapidly search and remove any victims they can locate,” McCracken wrote in an email. “However, crews were blocked from entering the building by excessive storage throughout the home, including up against the doors. Crews were eventually able to enter after much effort and locate the victim, who had perished.”


The man was Billy Carroll, according to the Alameda County coroner’s office.

Smoke and fire from the Dec. 27 fatal fire on Acton St. Photo: Lee Fenyves
Smoke and fire from the Dec. 27 fatal fire on Acton St. Photo: Lee Fenyves

Firefighters were able to successfully evacuate the houses next door. The fire was under control by 5:54 a.m.

The fire appears to have started near the home’s floor furnace, but officials don’t know the actual cause, said McCracken. The front of the house was so badly destroyed that officials may not be able to pinpoint the cause, although they believe it was accidental, she said.

Craig Hollis, who grew up in a house across the street from Carroll’s, left a comment on Berkeleyside that provided some details about Carroll’s life.

“Mr. Carroll was a very nice person, retired school teacher (St. Ignatius High School), yeah he had a lot of stuff…we all do! Nobody is perfect.”


Hollis later called Berkeleyside and said the neighborhood is very shaken up by Carroll’s death. People could see the flames shooting out of the house as they gathered on the sidewalk.

Hollis, a firefighter at the Capay Valley Fire Department, had visited his mother for Christmas but left before the fire to return home. Hollis said he keeps thinking that, if he had stayed over at his mother’s home Dec. 26 and seen the fire, he would have been able to save Carroll.

“If I had heard him, I would have run over with an ax,” he said.

Hollis said Carroll was a very friendly man who used to roller skate around the neighborhood. He would often take out a telescope to look at the stars and invite people in the neighborhood to watch.

Hollis said Carroll bought and sold items at the Alameda County Flea Market. Carroll’s car was filled with stuff but there wasn’t any indication from outside that the house was crammed, he said.


“Bill was a good guy,” said Hollis. “He would help you out if you needed help with something. He was a great neighbor. I just wish I was there and could have helped.”

Hollis said he and some neighbors are planning to hold a candlelight vigil for Carroll on Wednesday night.

Carroll had a sister who lives in the Bay Area, according to Hollis.

This story was updated with the victim’s name and address.

Related:
Fire destroys downtown Berkeley restaurant (11.27.15)
Dwight Way fire may have caused $1M in damage (11.25.15)
Two fires hit West Berkeley and southside (11.22.15)

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