UPDATE, Dec. 22: As of Dec. 22, the Berkeley Fire Department had not concluded its investigation into the Mandarin Garden fire. The property has been released back into the hands of its owners, but the restaurant was completely destroyed, and the two neighboring businesses, Patelco Credit Union and Venus Café, remain closed due to damage caused when fighting the fire.
ORIGINAL STORY: The Berkeley Fire Department responded to two fires at the Mandarin Garden restaurant at 2025 Shattuck Ave. (at University) Friday morning.
The second, two-alarm fire, which gutted the restaurant, was significant enough to require evacuations from nearby properties, but was mostly under control around 7:30 a.m.
According to Berkeley Fire Battalion Chief Brian Harryman, the second fire appears to have started in a different area of the building from the first one which BFD had determined they had extinguished.
Both the Patelco Credit Union and shuttered Ichiban restaurant that are on either side of Mandarin Garden suffered serious damage. A new restaurant called Venus Café, that was due to open in about a week in the Ichiban location, will now take months to repair, according to its co-owner, Peter Kwong.
A first fire is believed to have started in the kitchen of Mandarin Garden in the two-story building shortly after midnight Friday. Harryman told Berkeleyside that firefighters called to the building determined it was a standard first-alarm blaze. The crew extinguished the fire, Harryman said.
He said the crew investigated the fire, including using a thermal-imaging camera, to ensure it was extinguished. BFD left the scene at around 3 a.m.
About two hours later, at around 5:15 a.m., another 911 call came in about flames at the same location.
“This fire was possibly in a different part of the building,” Harryman said. Due to the scale of the conflagration, a second alarm was struck, meaning a total of seven engines, two ladder trucks, three paramedic ambulances and a battalion chief rushed to the scene.
“There were 20-foot flames coming from the roof, and the fire was self-venting,” Harryman reported.
Because of the volume of the fire, two ladder trucks fought the fire from above the roofline, followed by an “aggressive” approach for the interior of the restaurant. Crews breached walls to make sure there was no fire running inside the walls, Harryman said, including pulling down sections of walls and ceilings in the two adjacent buildings.
The masonry construction of the two-story building helped prevent a worse outcome, according to Harryman. “It’s an older, masonry building and the brick walls contained the fire. There was no fire damage to the buildings next door,” he said.
As a precautionary measure, authorities evacuated two residential buildings to the south and south-east of the blaze, Harryman said. The Red Cross came to the scene to help the displaced, although they were all let back into their homes fairly quickly.
No-one was injured in the fire. At around midday Friday the fire marshal and building inspector were on scene conducting an investigation, including determining whether the earlier fire rekindled.
Harryman said arson is always a consideration in cases like these.
The northbound lanes of Shattuck Avenue between Center Street and University were closed and remained closed through midday.
Kwong and his partner in the yet-to-open Venus Café at 2017 Shattuck Ave. were on scene Friday lunchtime surveying the extent of the damage to the business. Kwong said there was extensive water damage on both floors including to equipment in the building.
“The smell of smoke is throughout the building, and we will need to get rid of it,” he said. Kwong estimated it would take “a few months” before they could open the new café which had been due to open next week. The owners were hiring employees for the opening. Kwong said they were insured.
There have been a number of fires in Berkeley recently.
On Saturday Nov. 21 a fire involving a bean bag and a comforter at a fraternity house at 2714 Durant Ave. was extinguished by the building’s fire sprinkler system. Residents also used several extinguishers to put out the flames.
On Sunday Nov. 22, Berkeley Fire responded to two separate conflagrations, one relatively serious.
A fire at 2449 Dwight Way (at Telegraph) in the Chandler apartment building, forced the evacuation of many residents, shuttered businesses, and may have caused $1 million in damage, authorities said this week.
A second fire at around the same time broke out at 811 Carleton St. in a former foundry that its owners had converted to smaller spaces for craftspeople. The fire, which is believed to have been caused by an electrical fault, was relatively small as it was contained to about 100 square feet, and did not cause significant damage.
On Tuesday Nov. 23, BFD also responded to what turned out to be an oven fire at a residential building on College and Dwight.