Fire at West Berkeley homeless camp causes injury

smoke billows above body of water/bridge
The Berkeley Fire Department responded to a fire at a homeless encampment Thursday afternoon. One person was injured. Photo: @peterallanmoore

A fire at a West Berkeley homeless encampment sent a woman to a medical center with significant leg burns Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

The Berkeley Fire Department responded to a call about a fire at the camp around Frontage Road and University Avenue, near the westbound 1-80 offramp and the Seabreeze Market, shortly after 1 p.m., said Assistant Chief Keith May, a BFD spokesman.

“The fire was extinguished quickly and a female was found on scene with moderate to severe leg burns,” May said in an email. She was taken to a burn center in San Francisco for treatment.

The cause of the fire is unknown, May said.


The California Highway Patrol shut down the freeway offramp while the fire department was at work at the scene, he said.

The encampment across from Seabreeze was the birthplace last year of the local “Where Do We Go?” movement, with activists and homeless residents calling attention to the lack of affordable housing in Berkeley and criticizing Caltrans’ previous clear-outs of that camp.

Business owners, Berkeley Marina regulars, city officials and homeless residents have all repeatedly complained about the trash build-up at the camp, putting pressure on Caltrans to clean up the area more often. Berkeley installed a dumpster by the encampment late last year and ramped up its own pick-up schedule there.

Some Twitter users described seeing “thick black smoke” and other signs of the fire Thursday afternoon.

Berkeleyside is headed to the site of the fire to gather more information. Check back for updates.

Homeless encampment with smoke in background
The Seabreeze area encampment has been the site of protests and controversy around trash build-up. Photo: @peterallanmoore

Update, 5:10 p.m. A few hours after the fire, tents were still standing and some residents of the encampment across from Seabreeze were milling about. Caution tape was wrapped around one of the tents, and piles of charred belongings were scattered below.

Jason “Niño” Parker, who said he’s lived at the camp for a few months, said he tried to use his fire safety training to put out the flames, but found that the camp’s extinguishers were depleted.

“I was trying to get everyone to move and at least isolate it,” Parker said.

He said he worries that the fires — there was another recent incident, according to Parker — draw “bad attention” to the camps.

“It doesn’t make Caltrans happy,” he said of the agency that owns the land.

burnt objects scattered across the ground outdoors
Scorched items lay on the ground after the encampment fire. Photo: Natalie Orenstein