Fire breaks out at apartment building on Telegraph Avenue

Smoke billows from a burning apartment on the corner of Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue.
Taryn Erhardt/Senior Staff
Smoke billows from a burning apartment on the corner of Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue.

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Update: As of 2:45 p.m. Saturday, the fire was still technically burning, according to Gil Dong, deputy fire chief for the Berkeley Fire Department. Dong said this is the largest fire — which has now gutted the building and burned for nearly 17 hours — he can remember in the Berkeley area since the East Bay Hills fire in 1991. Dong and city spokesperson Mary-Kay Clunies-Ross both said the building is structurally unsound and could collapse. Clunies-Ross said the intersection at Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street will be closed for at least a week.

“The building is completely structurally unstable. That’s why the road is closed off for a while because we don’t want anyone getting anywhere close to that building,” she said Saturday afternoon.

Flames engulfed a building at the corner of Telegraph and Haste — which is home to Cafe Intermezzo, Raleigh’s Bar and Grill and Thai Noodle II on the ground level — late Friday evening and early Saturday morning during a fire that took firefighters more than six hours to contain. The roof of the building has collapsed and firefighters will stay on the scene all weekend to knock out any hot spots that may occur, according to Dong.

“We can assume right now that there are still some embers that could still be burning or small fires that could reignite over time,” Dong said Saturday afternoon.

There have been no reports of injuries to firefighters or civilians.

The fire broke out at the apartment building at 2441 Haste St. just before 9 p.m. Friday, causing the building to be evacuated and traffic on nearby streets to be blocked for multiple hours. For hours, the scene was one of destruction — ash littered the sky as flames emerged from various parts of the buildings and smoke billowed out of windows and filled the surrounding streets. The fire was contained by 3:19 a.m. Saturday, according to Sabina Imrie, Berkeley Fire Department’s assistant fire chief for special operations.

No one from the city or the fire department has been able to confirm the cause of the fire.

“We don’t know, and we may not know, frankly,” Clunies-Ross said of what started the fire.

The building, which is five stories, has commercial establishments on the bottom level and a 39-unit residential apartment complex on the upper four levels, according to Imrie.

“The supports of the building cannot withstand heat for that long, so we know the building is unstable — it’s been red-tagged by engineers. The floors on the inside have collapsed,” Clunies-Ross said. “And it’s unreinforced masonry, which means that the bricks could fall apart.”

She added that the next step will be to pull the building apart a little bit to put the rest of the fire out.

“The fire is still going, so (putting it out) is going to be a very careful process because it’s still hot inside but we need to start pulling stuff apart. As they do that process it will be harder to do an investigation,” Clunies-Ross said. “Obviously no one can go into the building because it’s so hot and so dangerous, so it’ll be very hard to determine the exact cause of the fire under the circumstances.”

Dong, who called it a “fairly large and significant fire,” said the first partial collapse occurred at 9:15 p.m. Friday. Over the course of the blaze, a total of 61 firefighters, 17 fire engines, 10 chief officers and six paramedic ambulances came to the scene, he said.

Just after 12 a.m. Saturday, smoke was seen engulfing the bottom level of the building after the fire seemed to intensify around 11 p.m. as black smoke began to emerge from the fourth story of the building. A firefighter on the scene said at around 12:40 a.m. Saturday that the whole building will probably be lost because the fire is too big for anyone to put out by entering the building.

Berkeley Fire Department initially learned about the fire at 8:48 p.m., and the first fire engine arrived at the scene at 8:56 p.m., according to Imrie.

Starting just after 9 p.m Friday., bystanders crowded outside the building on the sidewalk and across the street. Many residents of the building, displaced by the fire and looking for some relief from the cold night air, sat inside Caffe Mediterraneum across the street.

A fire consumes the apartment building on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street.

A shelter will soon open for those displaced by the fire, according to American Red Cross volunteer Markus Storzer. He estimated that about 70 people from the building would need somewhere to sleep for the night and that a bus will arrive to take people to the shelter, although where that will be remains unclear.

“I left the house around 11 a.m., I just came home from work and found it on fire,” said Elfego Miranda, a resident of the building. “Everything will be lost.”

View 2441 Haste St in a larger map

Car and pedestrian traffic were both blocked throughout the night. Around 10 p.m., car traffic was blocked off on Haste between Telegraph and Dana Street and traffic was blocked off on Telegraph between Dwight Way and Channing Way. As of 1:10 a.m. Saturday, streets were blocked off for pedestrians with caution tape in the block marked by Dwight Way to the south, Channing to the north, Bowditch Street to the east and Dana to the west. Rivers of water flowed down Dana and Dwight due to efforts to quell the fire.

Oakland, Albany and Alameda County fire departments were all on the scene.

A fire occurred on the roof of the same building in February this year, although that fire was much smaller and was put out within an hour.

Residents can call the American Red Cross at (510) 595-4441 if they need food, shelter or any other questions. In addition, the Red Cross will be at Dwight and Telegraph on Sunday between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The city of Berkeley is also asking that displaced residents call (510) 981-5900 and provide their name, phone number and apartment unit number to help the city evaluate how many people were displaced and coordinate with the Red Cross and the UC if necessary.

Adelyn Baxter, Sarah Burns, Weiru Fang, Claire Perlman and Anjuli Sastry of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.

Soumya Karlamangla is the assistant city news editor.