Tenants displaced after fire erupts in apartment complex

Derek Remsburg/Staff

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What remains of 2227 Dwight Way is little more than a shell of a building.

The residents of the three-story, six-unit apartment building — now with blackened walls and broken windows — have all been displaced, and those who live in the surrounding buildings are only being allowed in their homes for short periods of time to retrieve their belongings.

The building was gutted by the fire that broke out early Thursday morning, causing the collapse of the roof and leaving three walls structurally unsupported, according the Gil Dong, deputy fire chief for Berkeley Fire Department.

The fire caused an estimated $1 million in damages to the building, which has since been “red-tagged,” designating it “unsafe to enter,” according to Dong. Structural engineers from the city are determining whether the building is structurally unsound and needs to be demolished.

The preliminary investigation by the the fire department found that the blaze started accidentally in a water heater closet inside the building.

The fire burned through the three floors of the building, forcing firefighters to tackle the flames from the outside. It took the fire department about four hours to contain the fire, which was initially called in at 4:13 a.m. and under control shortly after 8 a.m.

According to Ed Silva, a disaster relief volunteer for the Red Cross, about 50 people were evacuated from the fire-damaged building and its neighboring buildings. A representative for Everest Properties, which owns all of the buildings affected by Thursday’s fire, said 11 residents lived at 2227 Dwight and are now all homeless.

Adnan Qadeer, who lives at the  neighboring 2223 Dwight Way and evacuated the building with his children before the fire department had responded, said he first smelled smoke before seeing flames.

“I started hearing the sound of something burning — it sounded like breaking wood and kept getting louder,” Qadeer said. “I opened the window and looked up and saw flames above me.”

No injuries have been reported, and all residents of 2227 Dwight and the nearby apartment buildings have been accounted for.

However, many residents of the building affected by the fire said the fire alarms did not go off when the fire broke out, and as a result, they woke up to a smoky apartment and the screams of their neighbors.

“I lost everything,” said Mychal Kendricks, who lived on the bottom floor of the building.

Though the preliminary investigation did not mention fire alarms, Dong said that further investigations into the cause of the fire may reveal whether fire alarms sounded.

Officials at Everest Properties said the building had passed all necessary safety inspections, but the agency was waiting for the city of Berkeley to complete the full investigation of what caused the fire before commenting on the incident.

Red Cross disaster relief volunteers came on the scene at around 5:30 a.m. with food and blankets for the few displaced residents who still remained nearby and said they will arrange for temporary housing for nonstudent displaced residents.

UC Berkeley Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard told the campus news center that the campus has arranged temporary housing in the residence halls for two of the displaced students, and three have arranged to stay with friends. The campus is offering meals to displaced students at the Crossroads Dining Commons.

Residents of 2227 Dwight are now struggling to continue on when most of their belongings burned Thursday morning.

“Everyone got out okay, and we’re alright … we woke up to the smoke filling our room and had to run out, so we don’t have clothes or wallets or anything really. Just our pjs,” reads a Facebook event page made by three people who lived in the apartment complex.