Apartment building fire becomes Berkeley’s biggest in more than 20 years

Tony Zhou/Staff
A fire, which broke out Friday evening, consumed a building on the corner of Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue.

Flames engulfed a building on Haste Street Friday night, destroying the structure in what is being called the biggest fire in Berkeley since the disastrous East Bay Hills Fire in 1991.

Though there have been no reports of injuries as a result of the fire, it has displaced all the residents of the 39-unit apartment complex located at 2441 Haste St. at the intersection of Telegraph Avenue. The fire raged for over six hours before it was contained, resulting in the collapse of the building’s roof and destruction of some of its floors.

Now, the building — gutted by the fire — is structurally unsound and could collapse, according to Gil Dong, deputy fire chief for the Berkeley Fire Department.

“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.

Currently, what started the fire has yet to be confirmed, and city officials have said the building is too dangerous to enter so the cause may remain unknown. A fire agency was on scene all weekend to knock out any residual hot spots, Dong said.

Because the structure could crumble, city officials have blocked off the area around the intersection of Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue. Raleigh’s Bar and Grill and Cafe Intermezzo, which are on the ground level of the building, appeared to have sustained severe fire damage and are currently closed.

Dong said 2426 Telegraph St. — the location of Thai Noodle II — and an apartment building at 2435 Haste St., both neighboring the destroyed structure, have also been closed off because of the collapse hazard.

City spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said the building will be assessed by engineers but has been red-tagged “do not enter.”

Until early Saturday morning, the scene was one of devastation — ash littered the sky as flames emerged from various parts of the buildings, and smoke billowed out of windows and filled the surrounding streets. Rivers of water flowed down Dana Street and Dwight Way from efforts to quell the fire, and residents stood outside the building, watching their belongings go up in smoke.

“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 who looked on while the building burned. “Everything will be lost.”

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, according to Dong.

The fire department was alerted to the fire around 8:45 p.m. Friday, and it was contained by 3:19 a.m. Saturday, according to Sabina Imrie, assistant fire chief for special operations for the fire department.

The American Red Cross was at the fire scene Friday night and again Saturday to assist the displaced residents. Although the Red Cross did not open a shelter, it put up eight residents up in a hotel Friday night, 12 residents Saturday night and five residents Sunday night, according to Red Cross spokesperson Jim Mallory.

The exact number of displaced tenants has yet to be determined since the apartment complex’s managing office was in the building, so the tenant list was most likely burned in the blaze, according to Clunies-Ross.

She added that the city is also working with UC Berkeley to arrange for housing for displaced students. All residents of the building are encouraged to call the city’s 24-hour non-emergency police and fire line — regardless of whether they were technically on the lease — so that the city can best assess the needs of all of the displaced, Clunies-Ross said.

A fire occurred on the roof of the same building in February this year after a wood-plank door on the roof caught fire, although that fire was much smaller and was put out within an hour.

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