Day 3: Downtown building still smoldering after biggest fire in 9 years

The fire at 2067 University Ave. was still active Monday and fire crews continue to douse the apartment building with jets of water.

A Berkeley firefighter descends the ladder of the 5 engine parked on Berkeley Way on day three of fighting the fire at 2076 University Ave. Nov. 23, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos

Update, Nov. 23: The fire at 2067 University Ave. that broke out Saturday around 5:30 p.m. was still very much active Monday morning with smoke billowing out of the top of the building and firefighters perched high up on ladders aiming strong jets of water through the open roof and gaping window openings.

Because the building is inaccessible, and therefore the source of the continuing fire is hard to identify, Berkeley Fire has been using a heat-detecting drone to survey the apartment building from above, according to Chief David Brannigan. A firefighter on scene Monday morning said he assumed the seven-story building  — which was to include 50 apartments and a street-level restaurant — would be a total loss.

University Avenue at Shattuck is still closed to traffic and pedestrians. Berkeley Way is closed off at Shattuck Avenue, which is open to traffic.

Original story: The morning after the biggest fire Berkeley has seen in nine years, a thick plume of smoke was still rising from the burnt-out apartment building under construction at 2067 University Ave. (at Shattuck) in downtown Berkeley.

The cause of the fire, which broke out around 5:30 p.m., Saturday is still unknown — crews can’t access the inside of the building which makes it impossible to investigate and identify the source. Inspectors were at the site Sunday morning to assess the risk of collapse, something first responders were acutely aware of last night.

Assistant Chief of Station 2, Lt. David Sprague, talks on the phone while an engine douses the building at 2067 University Avenue. Nov. 22, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos

Berkeley Fire Chief David Brannigan said the plan was for firefighters to be on scene for one or two days more. Residents should expect road closures in the immediate area for several days.

Shortly before 11 a.m., BFD Assistant Chief Keith May said building inspectors would be arriving at the site of the fire to assess the integrity of the buildings adjacent to the building that was on fire.
“We are still unable to access the building of origin to determine a fire cause,” he wrote by email, adding that the two buildings adjacent to the burning structure were still not accessible to the public.

Smoke rises from the backside of 2067 University Ave. on Berkeley Way as Berkeley firefighters keep a steady stream of water dousing the fire that started the evening before. Due to accessibility issues, Berkeley Fire Chief David Brannigan estimates at least one to two days of trying to get the fire under complete control. Nov. 22, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos
Firefighter Alfonso Munos from Berkeley Fire Engine #2 watches as water cascades down on the building at 2067 University Ave. Nov. 22, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos
Berkeley Fire engine #2 keeping a steady stream of water pouring over 2067 University Ave. The Fire Department estimates one to two days of street closure. Nov. 22, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos
A river of water pours out the front entrance of 2067 University Ave. where a large fire still burns inside. Fire officials have stated that the building is too unsafe to enter, making it hard to get at the source of the blaze. Nov. 22, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos
A rainbow appears in one of the water streams dousing the building at 2067 University Ave. which erupted in flames the night before, Nov. 22, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos
Berkeley Fire engine #2 keeping a steady stream of water pouring over 2067 University Avenue. The Fire Department estimates 1-2 days of street closure. Nov. 22, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos

Alex Cheng, Swaroop Akkineni and Melissa Bour come out of Berkeley fire station #2 with Assistant Station Chief Lt. David Sprague after the three came by to donate boxes of coffee to the firefighters, Nov. 22, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos
Water cascades down the side of the neighboring building of 2067 University Ave. where a six-alarm fire broke out the previous night. Nov. 22, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos

This story was updated after publication due to the developing nature of events.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside. Email: tracey@citysidejournalism.org.