Displaced Berkeley residents, students watch belongings burn in fire

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Christopher Yee/Staff

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Ashes rained down from the sky when Hanwool Park came home from the UC Berkeley bonfire rally at the Greek Theatre, in disbelief that his apartment building was engulfed in flames.

“I don’t even feel sad, I’m speechless,” Park said.

Park, a recent UC Berkeley graduate, is one of many Berkeley residents displaced from a five-story apartment building that erupted in flames Friday evening.The fire, which broke out at a 39-unit apartment building on 2441 Haste St. — located at the corner of Haste and Telegraph Avenue — continued to burn early Saturday morning as firefighters struggled to put out flames nearly five hours after the first fire engine arrived just before 9 p.m.

“You never expect to go to college and your whole building burns down,” said UC Berkeley senior Jessica Watson, who lived in the building and said she thinks the fire started near her apartment unit.

Though many residents suspect the fire was sparked by an electrical error, the origins of the fire are not clear as of press time.

Watson and her roommate Fabian Collazo — along with apartment mates Alex Lujan and Hwa-Rim Lee — were having Thanksgiving dinner when they heard the first fire alarm go off around 8:45 p.m. Confused, the friends grabbed their pets and a few belongings and ran downstairs. Hours later, they huddled together on the sidewalk and shivered as they watched smoke billow out of the building’s glass windows.

“At first we were shocked … we saw the flames and realized we might not get our things back,” Collazo said.

American Red Cross volunteers arrived at the scene shortly after 10:30 p.m. and accounted for displaced residents. Some gave out blankets while others asked residents if they had a place to stay for the night.

According to Markus Storzer, a volunteer with the American Red Cross, all residents will be provided shelter and reimbursed if they decide to stay in motels or elsewhere.

Residents said an inspection was done last week to replace batteries in the fire alarms, while the general safety inspection on Friday was to checked for things such as windows opening and closing.

“Because we’ve had so many false alarms in this building, for the first two minutes I just kept watching TV,” said Pourya Khademi, who lived on the third floor of the building. “I didn’t bring my wallet … I didn’t think it would be that serious.”

The bottom level of the building, below the four levels of apartments, is home to Cafe Intermezzo, Raleigh’s Bar & Grill and Thai Noodle II — all of which had filled with smoke by the early hours of Saturday morning.

UC Berkeley junior and ASUC Senator Andrew Albright, who works at Cafe Intermezzo, said the building had caught on fire a couple months earlier so he did not think it was a big deal at first.

However, watching the scene from a friend’s balcony, Albright said he knew that things would not be the same.

“To me, it just means I’m out of a job. That’s my rent, “ he said.

For recent UC Berkeley graduate Peter Mun, seeing his building on fire Friday was an utter shock. But, he said he will be staying at a friend’s house for the rest of the night and attempt to figure everything out Saturday.

“I don’t know what to feel,” Mun said. “I guess I just have to start all over again … basically my whole life is gone.”

Sarah Burns of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.