Demolition begins at Berkeley apartment building destroyed by fire

Levy Yun/Staff
After being destroyed by a fire Nov. 18, an apartment building on the corner of Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue is undergoing a partial demolition process.

About 30 spectators gathered at the intersection of Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue Tuesday morning with smartphones and cameras at the ready as a demolition crane ripped the roof off of the apartment building that was destroyed in the Nov. 18 fire.

Over the next two weeks, the building will undergo a partial demolition process to reduce the risk of collapse. The decision to demolish the building was made after it was deemed structurally unsound and at risk of collapse. According to Gil Dong, deputy fire chief for the Berkeley Fire Department, the lower stories of the building will be braced by support beams and some of the walls of the upper stories will be removed in order to make the building safer for nearby residences and pedestrians.

The five-alarm fire — which has been called the city’s worst since the 1991 East Bay Hills Fire — gutted at least some of the building’s floors and caused the roof to cave, displacing all 68 tenants of the building located at 2441 Haste St.

City spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said the top two floors of the buildings must be demolished by Dec. 5 per the partial demolition permit issued by the city last Wednesday.

According to a letter from the Berkeley Fire Department Fire Marshal John Fitch to building owners Kenneth and Gregory Ent, the demolition must exclude the area in and around the elevator mechanical room in the basement of the property to allow the fire marshal to complete a full investigation of the fire’s cause, which is not yet known.

Meanwhile, neighboring residents like Joe Quail — who lives in an adjacent building — have had to work around road closures that have resulted from the fire and subsequent demolition.

“It’s been pretty crappy having to deal with all this,” Quail said.

As of Tuesday morning, Telegraph was closed to vehicles and pedestrians from Channing Way to Haste Street.

Chloe Hunt of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.