Category Archives: Fire

As drought raises fire risk, Berkeley focuses on safety

Police and firefighters will be out in the North Berkeley neighborhoods this week practicing wildfire response (file photo). Photo: Emilie Raguso
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How long does it take to evacuate a block of Berkeley homes threatened by an encroaching fire? Ten minutes, 30 minutes, more? That was a question posed by Lt. Andrew Rateaver, Area 2 Commander with the Berkeley Police Department, at a community meeting on wildfire safety convened by council members Susan Wengraf, Laurie Capitelli and Lori Droste on Oct. 1.

The gathering was prompted by several inescapable, sobering facts: the state’s ongoing four-year drought is creating the perfect conditions for wildfires; trees are drying up; wildfires are spreading faster than in 30 years; and wildfires in western states generally are lasting 78 days longer on average than in the past. All these statistics were cited by Timothy Buroughs from the City of Berkeley’s resilience office. “This is not a blip, it’s a trend,” he said. More evidence if it were needed: the state Forest Service now spends more than 50% of its budget on fighting fires — as one of its directors said recently: “We’re no longer a forest service, we’re a fire department.” … Continue reading »

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Small fire knocks out UC Berkeley’s computers, WiFi

Earl Warren Hall, where the datacenter fire occurred on Friday night. Photo: Google Streetview
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A small fire at the UC Berkeley datacenter in Earl Warren Hall on Hearst Avenue on Friday knocked out the campus’ entire computer network from 7 p.m. An overheated server apparently sparked the fire, which in turn triggered the center’s fire suppression system. The Berkeley Fire Department responded to the fire, evacuated the building and ensured that the fire was controlled. No injuries were reported.

“Since the fire shortly after 7 p.m., we’ve been all hands on deck with folks working around the clock,” said university spokesman Roqua Montez. Speaking at 10:20 a.m. on Saturday morning, Montez said the datacenter is back up and storage is mostly back up.

Applications, including CalNet — which enables the university’s many websites — are still down. “We don’t have a timetable for that yet,” Montez said. The university’s WiFi is also still down. … Continue reading »


Alcohol at Cal: Authorities report record arrests, tickets

Paramedics load a patient into an ambulance during a response to an alcohol poisoning call at Freeborn Hall in the Unit 1 dorms at the University of California, in Berkeley, on Sunday, August 23. The call came in as a possible alcohol poisoning case involving a 19-year-old female in the bathroom of Freeborn Hall. Photo: David Yee
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An annual enforcement effort targeting drinking at UC Berkeley as the semester kicks off has netted a record number of arrests and citations related to alcohol use around campus, but the calls for medical service for heavily intoxicated students have been on the decline, authorities reported this week.

The Berkeley Police Department tallied 423 arrests and citations over the first two weekends of the school year, from Aug. 21-23 and Aug. 27-29, around campus and in the Southside neighborhood.

The operation was a collaboration between the Berkeley Police Department and the state Alcoholic Beverage Control agency, which funds the effort through a grant. The annual effort dates back to 2004, and has netted 3,400 arrests and citations over that time related to possession of open containers in public, minors in possession of alcohol, furnishing alcohol to a minor, minors in possession of fake IDs and public intoxication.

The numbers have fluctuated over the years, from a low of 179 in 2006 to a high this year of 423, which was a 29% increase in overall arrests and citations over the prior year. This year was the first to show more than 400 arrests and citations.

Officer Byron White, a Berkeley Police spokesman, said officers saw record numbers of minors in possession of alcohol (133 citations), as well as minors in possession of fake IDs (80 citations). Open container violations (180) were the second highest recorded since 2004.

White said the number of fake IDs confiscated was particularly notable. In many past years, several dozen of these IDs were confiscated. That number jumped to 44 in 2011, rose the following year to 78, dropped a bit the next two years, then hit its peak, at 80, this year. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Berkeley must restrict parking on narrow streets

It's difficult for emergency vehicles to pass through many of Berkeley's narrow streets. Photos: Bob Flasher
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The Berkeley Disaster and Fire Safety Commission is working on a proposal to restrict parking on what it describes as “the excessively narrow streets in the hills fire zone.” The commission has suggested this as a result of FEMA recommendations that followed the 1991 Tunnel Fire.

Wildfires have already scorched hundreds of square miles of California, long before the most threatening months of the fire season. Homes and lives have been lost. We need to prepare in advance of life-threatening fires to ensure that loss of life and property in Berkeley will be minimal.

While Berkeley’s fire department has made significant operational and equipment improvements since the 1991 Tunnel Fire, most of the additional neighborhood changes recommended by FEMA and the Hills Emergency Management Forum have yet to be implemented.

One of the most essential changes recommended is to limit parking on excessively narrow, winding streets in the Hills Hazardous Fire Area. These limitations would be crucial to allow 24/7 emergency access, not only during disastrous urban interface fires, but for everyday medical emergency runs. … Continue reading »

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Authorities practice wildfire response in Berkeley Hills

Police and firefighters will be out in the North Berkeley neighborhoods this week practicing wildfire response (file photo). Photo: Emilie Raguso
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This week, Berkeley police and firefighters will be making the rounds in some North Berkeley neighborhoods as they practice skills related to urban wildfire response.

According to a notice released by police Monday morning, the training is set to take place Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week in the North Berkeley Hills.

“The purpose of these training sessions is to improve the safety of our residents during wildfire emergencies. Responders will practice real-time determination of evacuation routes, firefighting tactics and strategies, and communication protocols,” according to the statement, which was released over the Nixle alert service.

The training comes on the heels of an early-morning vegetation fire in Tilden park on Sunday that drew five fire companies to the Berkeley-Oakland hills to put it out. Sunday’s fire broke out not far from where the historic 1991 firestorm began, on Oct. 19, 1991. On that day, firefighters believed they had succeeded in extinguishing the blaze. But flames erupted again the next day, aided by strong winds, and the resulting conflagration turned into one of the worst firestorms ever seen in the country. … Continue reading »

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Crews extinguish 1-acre vegetation fire in Tilden Park

Fire map
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At least five fire companies responded to a vegetation fire that broke out before sunrise in the Berkeley-Oakland hills Sunday.

According to Avery Webb, interim fire chief of the Berkeley Fire Department, its communications center received a report of a vegetation fire west of the Tilden Park Steam Train at 5:45 a.m. Sunday.

Berkeley Fire responded, along with fire companies from Oakland, Moraga/Orinda, East Bay Regional Parks, and Cal Fire. … Continue reading »

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Broken fire hydrant makes Berkeley geyser

There's a broken fire hydrant at Acton and Addison. Photo: Toph Burns
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A broken fire hydrant in central Berkeley sent water shooting up into the sky Friday morning.

Berkeleyside readers alerted us to the situation, at Acton and Addison streets, at 11 a.m.

Wrote Toph Burns, on Twitter, when he shared this photograph: “Quick everyone, bring buckets and laundry!” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley fire chief is now interim deputy city manager

Gil Dong has been with the city since 1990. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong has stepped into a new position with the city after 25 years in the Fire Department. As of Saturday, Dong is wearing a new hat for Berkeley as the interim deputy city manager.

Interim City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley appointed Dong to the position July 17, according to a memo to the Berkeley City Council. Both Williams-Ridley and Dong began in their new roles Saturday, after the departure of former City Manager Christine Daniel. Friday was Daniel’s last day before beginning a new job for the city of Oakland as assistant city administrator.

Dong started his long career in Berkeley as a firefighter and paramedic in 1990, and steadily moved up through the ranks. He told Berkeleyside, when he became fire chief in 2013, that he believed he had been “destined to become a firefighter.” … Continue reading »

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Hundreds gather in Berkeley to remember balcony victims

Hundreds gathered in Civic Center Park Sunday night for a "Month's Mind" to honor and remember those killed in the June 16 balcony collapse. Photo: Ted Friedman
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A month after a fifth-floor balcony snapped off the façade of 2020 Kittredge St. in Berkeley, sending six people in their 20s to their deaths and injuring seven others, hundreds of people gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Sunday to honor them.

The event was a “Month’s Mind,” a traditional Irish requiem mass held a month after a death, according to Philip Grant, the Irish consul general in San Francisco. It is meant to remember and honor the deceased. There is a moment of silence for reflection.

“It’s a moment of reflection on what happened and where we’ve come,” said Grant. … Continue reading »

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As students recover in hospitals, support grows for survivors and victims of Berkeley balcony collapse

A note and flowers left in memory of the victims of a deadly balcony collapse at the Library Gardens Apartments lie on the sidewalk on Kittredge Street, near Miliva Street, in Berkeley, on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Six people died and seven were seriously injured in the early Tuesday morning accident. Photo: David Yee ©2015
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By Francesca Paris and Eden Teller

As the bodies of the Irish students killed in the recent balcony collapse accident in Berkeley were being prepared for repatriation back to Ireland, the seven students injured in the accident continued to recover in several Bay Area hospitals.

Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Sean Fahey, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin, Niall Murray and Hannah Waters are being treated at Highland Hospital in Oakland, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek for injuries sustained when they plummeted from the fifth-floor balcony that snapped off the Library Gardens apartment building at 2020 Kittredge St.

Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.

The victims were celebrating Beary’s 21st birthday when the accident happened at around 12:40 a.m. Tuesday.

Father Aidan McAleenan, an Irish pastor at Oakland’s Saint Columba Catholic Church, has been providing support for the families of the victims and has visited the injured students in the hospital. … Continue reading »

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Coroner releases autopsy results on balcony victims; first responders sought help for shock, stress

Irish Consul General Philip Grant praised the first responders for their compassion. Photo: David Yee
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The six young people who fell to their deaths Tuesday when a balcony snapped off the fifth floor of Library Gardens in downtown Berkeley died of multiple blunt injuries, the Alameda County coroner’s office said Thursday.

Four of the youth died from “multiple blunt injuries,” one died of “blunt trauma to the head and brain,” and one died of “multiple blunt traumatic injuries,” according to a coroner’s spokeswoman. But the varied designations are just the way the different coroners described the injuries, she said.

Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.

The six students who died, and the seven who were seriously injured in the collapse, fell about 48 feet to the street below. Four were pronounced dead at the scene and two died later. They were Ashley Donohoe, 22, from Rohnert Park; and Olivia Burke, Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster and Lorcán Miller, all 21 years old and from Ireland. … Continue reading »

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City posts documents from balcony collapse property

Remnants of beams from removed balconies show contrast between the condition of the wood from the collapsed balcony and the balcony it fell upon at the Library Gardens Apartments, in Berkeley, on Thursday, June 18, 2015. Six people died and seven were seriously injured in the early Tuesday morning accident. Photo: David Yee ©2015
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By Emilie Raguso and Frances Dinkelspiel

Two days after a deadly balcony collapse in downtown Berkeley killed six and injured seven others, city officials have released a slew of planning documents related to the apartment complex where the tragedy took place.

The city of Berkeley has been doing its own investigation into what went wrong at 2020 Kittredge St., where a fifth floor balcony broke off a top-floor unit at Library Gardens, an apartment building that was completed less than a decade ago. That inquiry most likely won’t be completed in the next few days, said Matthai Chakko, city spokesman. Building officials are examining the plans for Library Gardens, how those plans were executed and what has happened since the building was completed, he said.

“What were the factors that went into the failure?” said Chakko. “We don’t know what happened at what point that led to failure.”

Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.

Experts who have reviewed photographs and documents from the accident have said wood rot appears likely to have played a significant role in the collapse. Segue Construction Inc., the company that built Library Gardens, has been sued multiple times in recent years in relation to problems with waterproofing and the resulting property damage.

As part of the city of Berkeley’s investigation, officials have been working to make planning documents related to the Kittredge Street property accessible to those who are interested. … Continue reading »

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Firm that built Berkeley complex has been fined, sued

Two balconies were removed from Library Gardens after a deadly accident Tuesday. Photo: Emily Dugdale
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In a series of stories, Berkeleyside examines the building where six people died and seven were seriously injured Tuesday after a balcony collapsed. Part 1 looks at a history of complaints by residents, Part 2 examines potential issues surrounding the balcony construction, and Part 3, below, looks at some of the issues faced by the company that built the apartment complex where Tuesday’s tragedy took place.

The construction company that built the apartment complex in downtown Berkeley where a fifth-floor balcony collapsed Tuesday during a birthday party, killing six and injuring seven, has been fined and sued in connection with its work in other locations, according to documents reviewed by Berkeleyside.

But Sam Singer, a spokesman for Pleasanton-based Segue Construction Inc., said Wednesday that the company has a long track record of safety and quality, and that lawsuits are “commonplace” in the construction industry.

Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.

Singer also said safety-related fines assessed of Segue have been minimal, and that the company has been sued just once in relation to balcony work and water issues. That lawsuit, which related to a San Jose apartment complex, involved balconies Singer described as very different in design from the Berkeley balcony, at the 176-unit Library Gardens apartment complex, that collapsed Tuesday, with deadly consequences. Segue reportedly settled that case for $3 million.

As it turns out, however, there was also a $3.5 million settlement after a neighborhood association filed a lawsuit in Millbrae in 2013 related to waterproofing and wood rot. And, that same year, Trestle Glen Associates, in Colma, filed a breach of contract lawsuit, still underway, against Segue related to “water intrusion causing tangible property damage.” … Continue reading »

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