2-alarm fire displaces residents in North Berkeley

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Cesar Ruiz/Staff

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Update: This story has been updated to reflect additional interviews with the deputy fire marshall, the building’s owner and a building resident.

A two-alarm fire in a North Berkeley home Monday morning damaged two stories and displaced 16 residents.

Berkeley Fire Department Deputy Chief Avery Webb said the fire department received a call at 5:07 a.m. regarding a three-story house at 1802 Bonita Avenue, about a block away from the intersection of Delaware Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Fire crews were on scene five minutes later.

Webb said the fire was raised from a single-alarm fire to a two-alarm fire to draw out additional firefighters.

“It looked like we were going to be working on it for a while,” he said.

The fire was “knocked down” — no longer actively burning — at 6:08 a.m., after which firefighters confirmed it had been extinguished, Webb said. No injuries were reported.

The fire appeared to have started on the second floor and damaged it before spreading to and destroying the third floor, Webb said. Though initial reports indicated only seven people lived inside, because the house had been divided up into smaller apartments, the fire displaced 16 residents, including one apartment manager.

Webb said residents who were uprooted by the fire were initially told to seek shelter at the nearby North Berkeley Senior Center and that the Red Cross was on-hand to help organize temporary housing.

The property’s owner, Chuck Stevens, said all his tenants had plans as to where they were going to stay, including some who intended to leave the state or country. There is no formal estimate of the damages, but Stevens guessed about half a million dollars and possibly more if rain soaks into the house through the fire-damaged roof.

“It adds up fast,” he said.

Jo Burrows, an 11-year resident of the building, said she found out about the fire while staying in Pacifica, California. While she and her 10-year-old son drove back to Berkeley, she expected the worst — a mindset she said was helpful.

“It’s not always quite that bad,” she said. “Always remember what’s important — that nobody got hurt.”

Burrows was able to salvage photographs and her son’s paintings, but her apartment suffered both fire and water damage. It was important to her, she said, that her son see their home again.

According to Steven Riggs, the BFD deputy fire marshall, fire crews have determined an “area of origin” for the blaze but not a specific cause. This is fairly common, he said, as fires tend to burn up evidence of what precisely sparked them. Riggs said the fire department has found nothing to indicate there were suspicious circumstances surrounding the fire.

G. Haley Massara covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @BylineGraph.