Update, 5 p.m. Authorities say 94 children and 14 staffers were evacuated during Friday’s three-alarm fire at the First Congregational Church on Channing Way in Berkeley.
The fire was declared under control at 3:20 p.m. but had not been extinguished, Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong said during a 4 p.m. briefing. Firefighters were still working to put out hotspots.
He said crews would remain on scene throughout the evening and into tomorrow.
Scroll down for photographs of the fire shared by many community members.
Dong said the cause of the fire remains unknown and the investigation could not be carried out until the conditions are safe. He said Channing Way and Durant Avenue will be blocked off tomorrow, and could affect traffic for the scheduled Cal football game.
Dong said authorities are concerned about potential collapses, particularly in the chimney.
According to reports, the building’s roof collapsed not long after a firefighting team inside the building left due to safety concerns.
Everyone who was evacuated was taken to the Berkeley City Club at 2315 Durant, said Dong. There were no injuries reported and parents were notified about the evacuation, which Berkeley Police officers helped to carry out.
Norton Hall, part of UC Berkeley housing, was also evacuated.
Tim Brandon told Berkeleyside he was in the church across the street from First Congregational at a memorial service when the fire broke out. He called the fire department at 12:34 p.m.
“My daughter ran into the building and told the kids to get out,” he said.
The church functions as a community gathering space for many in Berkeley.
Said Matt Reed on the Berkeleyside Facebook page, “More than a community event center, the building is a spiritual home to a large and vibrant, progressive faith community. A place we feel loved and at home.”
Added Julie Wng: “oh no, what a shame. It’s a beautiful building that serves the entire. community. Concerts, high holy day services, etc. are held there.”
Berkeleyside will continue to follow up to learn more.
Update, 3:40 p.m. Berkeleyside’s Arielle Gordon-Rowe is on scene at the fire. She describes the area as being “thick with smoke.” Crews are continuing to direct hoses at the structure and water is coursing down Channing. Gordon-Rowe spoke with Officer Jennifer Coats of the Berkeley Police, who said 18 resources were assigned to the fire. Roads around the area are still closed (Channing between Telegraph and Ellsworth and Dana between Haste and Durant) due to crews on scene and potential hazard of falling debris. There have been no reported injuries. The children’s daycare next door to the church was evacuated. All the kids are fine and parents have been notified. A witness who works at the First Presbyterian Church across the street from the fire at 2345 Channing Way said she first saw smoke coming up by a chimney but could also smell burning.
The First Church’s website is updating its congregation on new of the fire. It reported that the fire is in Pigrim Hall, part of the church’s property used for offices and the Large Assembly area. They said the fire may have also spread to parts of the Sanctuary attic and that “the fire started with work that was being done on the roof.”
Update, 1:29 p.m. The Berkeley Police Department has released a new update about the fire at the First Congregational Church.
The Berkeley Fire Department continues to work the fire and additional firefighters from other agencies are joining in the battle. Those agencies will be on Dana between Dwight and Durant.
BPD says “Dana Street is closed to all traffic, pedestrian and vehicular. Please avoid the area. Channing between Telegraph and Ellsworth is closed along with Haste between Telegraph and Ellsworth.”
Update, 1:04 p.m. The Berkeley Fire Department tells us the fire at 2345 Channing, the First Congregational Church, is now a three-alarm blaze. The fire is in the roof and attic. No injuries have been reported, said Deputy Fire Chief Donna McCracken.
Original story, 12:52 p.m. Berkeleyside is getting reports of an active fire at 2345 Channing Way near Ellsworth in Berkeley’s Southside neighborhood.
That’s the address for the First Congregational Church at Channing and Dana Street.
Reader reports: “Tons of fire/police responding.”
Reports began coming in to Berkeleyside just before 12:40 p.m. of lots of sirens in the Southside neighborhood.
At about 12:50 p.m., local resident Ryan M. Martin said the incident became a “‘Second alarm fire’ per dispatch. White smoke visible one block west of UCB Unit 3 Dorm housing per my visual.”
Another reader reported “really dramatic flames coming from what appeared to be chimney.”
We will update this post as we get more information. Berkeleyside has reached out to the Berkeley Fire Department to learn more.
Arielle Gordon-Rowe and Tracey Taylor contributed reporting to this story.
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