Fire near Campanile leaves students shocked, vegetation scorched

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Kimberly Veklerov/Staff

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The fire that ignited Thursday evening near the Campanile destroyed a portion of vegetation and scorched the sides of a retaining wall but did not visibly damage anything else.

By Friday afternoon, the caution tape that had cordoned off the area the night before had been taken down, and the mass of burned shrubbery had been removed. Only the ashes of plants and the charred branches of a pine tree showed signs of the previous night’s blaze. The destruction to the vegetation extended about 15 feet along the western side of the tower and 10 feet along the southern side.

Tourists snapped photographs of the UC Berkeley landmark Friday afternoon. From the northern and eastern sides of the Campanile, it was impossible to see the damage.

Students remember a different scene the night before.

UC Berkeley freshman Young Min Kim was studying with friends in Stephens Hall, directly south of the Campanile, when he heard alarms in the direction of the tower. Soon afterward, the smell of smoke wafted into the room in which they were studying. Kim said one of his friends came back from the bathroom and said, “Guys, I think there’s a fire.”

Witnesses said the Campanile’s alarm system went off in response to the fire. Lights from the bell tower flashed, and alarms rang.

Kim said it appeared firefighters had already contained the fire within a grassy area by the time he and his friends left Stephens Hall.

UC Berkeley junior Christina Kirby had just left Moffitt Library about 10:45 p.m. when she heard the alarms.

“I couldn’t tell where (the alarms) were coming from at first,” Kirby said. After walking from the library to Campanile Way, however, she could see the fire from the bottom of the hill.

Kirby arrived just before the fire trucks did. She saw firefighters block off the surrounding area as they worked to extinguish the flames. Kirby said the flames were about 20 feet tall and quite wide.

“I saw the fire grow bigger and jump to a tree,” Kirby said. “It shot up in different areas and spread rather quickly.”

After Berkeley Fire Department arrived with five fire trucks, firefighters fully extinguished the fire in less than 15 minutes. UCPD officers patrolled the campus and perimeter after the fire. Officers told campus fire marshal Tony Yuen on Thursday night that they believed that individuals performing “fire tricks” may have been responsible for the blaze.

UCPD did not immediately respond to questions regarding the investigation.

Kimberly Veklerov is the lead crime reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KVeklerov.