A fire in Berkeley’s Southside neighborhood on Sunday may have caused $1 million in damage, authorities said this week.
The fire, at 2449 Dwight Way in the Chandler apartment building, appears to have started in a fourth-floor unit on the west side of the building, then spread to the attic. Acting Berkeley Fire Chief Avery Webb said the fire appears likely to have been accidental, based on the preliminary investigation. The investigation is, however, ongoing.
About 30 people were displaced as a result of the fire, either staying with supporters or receiving help from the Red Cross for temporary housing. A representative from the Red Cross said Wednesday it is assisting 26 people, and that the agency is still working to determine the short- and long-term needs of those individuals.
One person had to be carried out of the building by firefighters and was treated at a hospital, but was released Sunday evening. In addition, two cats are reported to have perished in the Dwight Way fire. A third cat was rescued by firefighters and survived the blaze.
In addition to the two-alarm Dwight Way fire, which took about 40 minutes to control, firefighters also were busy Sunday with a blaze in West Berkeley at the old Macaulay Foundry, at 811 Carleton St., which had been turned into workspaces for craftspeople. Reports about that fire came into the city at 5:40 p.m., 12 minutes after the Dwight Way call.
Webb said it appears from the initial investigation that the Carleton Street fire may have been electrical in nature, and looks to have caused an estimated $220,000 in damage. That fire appears to have started in an exterior wall of the building, then spread up into the attic space. No injuries were reported, he said.
All seven of Berkeley’s fire engines were already working on the Dwight Way call, so BFD relied on assistance from other agencies to handle the two-alarm call on Carleton. The Berkeley Fire Department did call in several off-duty battalion chiefs to help with both incidents. Firefighters from Albany, Alameda County, Oakland and El Cerrito responded to the request for mutual aid on Carleton.
Firefighters had to open up a parapet and part of the roof to stop the spread of that fire. It was not declared under control until 7:07 p.m., but Webb said other agencies may use a different standard than Berkeley for making that determination.
John Allen, one of the building owners, said the fire was relatively small but did affect one craftsman. The fire was contained to about 100 square feet. The entire building is about 50,000 square feet, he said.
“Everybody’s OK. Nobody was hurt,” said Allen, who thanked the firefighters.
No word yet on when Telegraph businesses will reopen
Webb said, regarding the Dwight Way incident, most of the fire damage happened on the fourth floor of the wood-framed building, but water ran down through the building’s lower floors and caused additional damage. Initially, damage was estimated at $500,000, but he said the size of the building and the area impacted by the fire ultimately bumped that up to perhaps $1 million.
Reports first came in Sunday at 5:28 p.m., describing heavy brown smoke billowing from the fourth floor on the west side of the Chandler building, on Dwight Way. More than 30 firefighters were ultimately called to the scene, and the first company arrived within five minutes.
The building also has frontage on Telegraph Avenue, and includes the Bleecker Bistro, run by Joshu-ya owner Jason Kwon; the Gifts of Tara gift shop; the Reprint Mint framing shop; and the Lhasa Karnak Herb Company.
Moe’s Books is just north of the herb shop, reportedly in a separate building, and was open Monday. There was some water discovered in the shop’s basement, said Webb, that may have been related to the firefighting effort.
Sunday, residents were able to go back into their apartments with the assistance of firefighters to pick up some essential items. Firefighters remained on scene all night to make sure nothing flammable rekindled.
An estimated 24 residential units are in the building. Had all the displaced residents needed relocation help, the city likely would have opened up a shelter, but because so many people were able to find their own accommodations, that didn’t happen this week, Webb said.
Cynthia Shaw, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region, said assistance offered by the agency included clothing, food, medication and housing. Volunteers from the organization also set up a canteen offering snacks and water for first responders.
Southside resident and photographer Ted Friedman said building tenants are keeping in touch with each other about news and plans related to the repairs. (Read Friedman’s account of the fire and its aftermath.)
When the businesses will reopen, and when residents will be able to return, depends largely on the property owner, and how aggressively repairs are pursued. Firefighters had to cut power to the building — a typical safety precaution — while fighting the blaze. He said there was also water pipe damage that had resulted in water spraying into some parts of the building, which will need to be fixed, along with gas utility piping that needs repairs.
“It’s almost impossible to estimate,” Webb said. “Those utilities have to be reestablished. There was a lot of damage to the roof and so that will have to be repaired.”
But he said it’s possible the businesses will be back in operation before residents are allowed to go home, because there was an entire floor between the fire and the commercial storefronts on Telegraph.
Almost four years to the day since the Sequoia fire
Webb noted Monday that the Dwight Way fire took place almost four years to the day from when a fire tore through the nearby Sequoia apartment building a block north of Sunday’s blaze. Work is still being done to rebuild that structure, at 2441 Haste St., which had to be demolished due to the extensive damage.
Webb said the Dwight Way fire was “less complex” than the Haste Street blaze because the origin was on the top floor. On Haste Street, the five-alarm fire, in an elevator shaft, started below ground level.
“It spread up all the way through all floors to the attic,” said Webb. “It had spread to too many areas for us to catch it and get it under control. The damage was way more extensive.”
On Haste Street, there were “multiple collapses” and tilting of the walls, and the fire totally infiltrated the structure.
“We had to let it burn out,” he said. “That does not appear to be the extent of the damage here [on Dwight].”
Sunday, firefighters had to cut holes in the roof on Dwight Way to contain the fire, Webb said. He described those roof cuts as a “significant and primary strategy” used during firefighting efforts.
“One of the things we want to do very quickly is open up the roof,” he said. “What that does is relieve heat and pressure below, which slows or stops the lateral spread of the fire.”
The ventilation holes also release smoke, which allows for better visibility inside the building so firefighters can have faster access.
He said firefighters, who used a ladder to get up to the roof, could see where the fire was because the tar on the roof was bubbling. They first cut one ventilation hole near that area, and later added several others. He said the roof did sag near that initial hot spot, but that there was no cataclysmic damage, such as a complete collapse of the roof.
There were no reports as of earlier this week about serious structural damage to the Chandler building, but Webb repeated that the investigation is ongoing.
TBID: “It could have been much, much worse”
The Telegraph Business Improvement District released a statement Monday thanking firefighters for their efforts.
“While it seems that the roof was weakened, initially it appears that there is no significant structural damage. The worst visible damage that can be seen on the outside is in the rear north corner, where the fire allegedly started. Initial reports point to a gas leak,” according to the statement.
“The most difficult aspect of the fire is that it has left the 30 residents there, at least temporarily, homeless,” the TBID wrote. “Keep those affected directly by the fire in your thoughts as we observe Thanksgiving, the holiday of gratitude. Again without our fire department’s diligence and masterful coordination of dealing with two local 2-alarm fires at once, it could have been much, much worse.”
Fraternity fire also reported over the weekend
Early Saturday morning, the Berkeley Fire Department responded to a single-alarm fire in the neighborhood, at 2714 Durant Ave. at the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. The department was alerted to the fire because of a water-flow alarm at the location.
Arriving firefighters were directed to the basement, and found that the fire had already been extinguished by the building’s fire sprinkler system. Residents also used several extinguishers to put out the flames.
Webb said the fire, which involved a bean-bag chair and a comforter, never spread to the structure itself. There was smoke and water damage, primarily to the chair and bedding, but no injuries were reported.
“The source of ignition was not readily apparent, however, smoking paraphernalia was found in the room,” he said Tuesday by email. He noted, too, that the fraternity had sought and received a permit to host an event at the residence that began Friday, Nov. 20.
Donations to the Red Cross can be made online. They go into a general fund that the agency decides how to distribute. [Editor’s Note: This story originally was published at 3:59 p.m., but was republished at 5:10 p.m. due to an internal technical glitch.]
Two fires hit West Berkeley and Southside (11.22.15)
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