Berkeley Hills fire being investigated as potential arson

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Bobby Lee/Staff

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A fire that broke out at the intersection of Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Fish Ranch Road in the Berkeley Hills yesterday is currently 50 percent contained, according to Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton.

Drayton said the fire still spans 20 acres, but there is “no active, free burning fire.” Moraga-Orinda Fire District Chief Stephen Healy said there are about 157 firefighters on the scene from four local fire departments, including Moraga-Orinda Fire District, Oakland Fire Department, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and East Bay Regional Park District Fire Department.

Fire crews are still extinguishing hot spots, according to Drayton, with hopes to “have full containment by 8 p.m. tonight.” Berkeley Fire Department Chief Gil Dong said the fire burned 20 acres of vegetation, brush and grasses, and crews currently have hose lines surrounding the fire.

Drayton added that the cause of the fire is still under investigation and yet to be determined. UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich said in an email UCPD is investigating the hills fire as a potential arson.

“We are working closely with Cal Fire and we will be relying on their preliminary investigation,” Reich said in an email. “We will provide updates as we are able.”

BPD and BFD received a report about 1:06 p.m. Wednesday from a resident who saw “a column of smoke and flames” in the direction of the Berkeley Hills, according to Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel.

Approximately 200 firefighters from nine local fire departments, including BFD, responded throughout Wednesday to the fire. A number of campus properties, including buildings at Berkeley Lab, were also evacuated as a precautionary measure.

Drayton added that the cause of the fire is still under investigation and yet to be determined.

BPD and BFD received a report about 1:06 p.m. Wednesday from a resident who saw “a column of smoke and flames” in the direction of the Berkeley Hills, according to Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel.

Approximately 200 firefighters from nine local fire departments, including BFD, responded throughout Wednesday to the fire. A number of campus properties, including buildings at Berkeley Lab, the Space Sciences Laboratory and the Lawrence Hall of Science were evacuated as a precautionary measure. Two nearby youth camps of about 100 kids were also voluntarily evacuated due to smoke entering the camp area.

Abby Jackson-Gain, a museum facilitator at the Lawrence Hall of Science, said she saw “a big plume of white smoke coming up behind the hill” and about 2:45 to 3 p.m., guests were evacuated from the hall.

She added that Lawrence Hall staff had to figure out how to evacuate people down the hill despite road closures.

“A lot of the museum guests were worried,” Jackson-Gain said. “There (were) a lot of firefighters and fire trucks zooming by the museum.”

UCPD issued a Nixle alert 2:42 p.m. Wednesday announcing a planned campus power outage by PG&E due to the fire, but the outage was ultimately cancelled.

Jackie Silva, an employee in the UC Berkeley Library IT services department, said she was asked to shut down a few computer servers due to the potential power outage.

Niharika Gupta, a campus researcher, said she was asked to evacuate Cory Hall after receiving UCPD’s notice.

“Everything (was) shut down. All computers had to be shut down”, Gupta said. “Experiments were running, (so) a whole day (of work was) shut down.”

Contact Maya Ng-Yu at [email protected].

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