Fire in West Berkeley contained after five-hour battle

Jennifer Tanji/Staff

Chris Yoder/Staff

Kevin Foote/Staff

Kevin Foote/Staff

Jennifer Tanji/Staff

Jennifer Tanji/Staff

Jennifer Tanji/Staff

Jennifer Tanji/Staff

Jennifer Tanji/Staff

Jennifer Tanji/Staff

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A large fire that broke out Saturday night and consumed a number of businesses and artisanal studios in West Berkeley was contained early Sunday morning after a five-hour battle waged by the Berkeley Fire Department in full force.

The fire broke out around 8 p.m. Saturday at a warehouse near Berkeley Marina containing an artisanal collective, businesses and music studios, located on the 1800 block of 2nd Street near Hearst Avenue. There were no reported injuries due to the fire, and the blaze was under control by about 1 a.m. Sunday.

The fire gutted the building — filled with flammable instruments, wood and crafting materials — and decimated Joshua Tree, an artisanal wood-working and metal-working collective. Other affected businesses include the Wooden Duck, a furniture manufacturer, and Import Tile Company.

“There was a lot of combustible material stacked and stored,” said BFD Assistant Fire Chief Donna McCracken. “(The fire) was fighting back against us.”

As the situation escalated to a five-alarm incident, BFD requested aid from Alameda and Oakland fire departments, among others, according to Avery Webb, BFD deputy fire chief.

The firefighters attempted to enter the building but were hindered both by the size of the flames and the layout of the building. During the fire, high-voltage power lines fell on the duty chief’s vehicle, expediting requests to Pacific Gas and Electric Company to shut power off in the area. BFD also requested that the Union Pacific Railroad briefly halt train traffic in the area.

The size of the fire and instability of the building prompted the duty chief to have all companies exit the building, Webb said. Nobody was in the building, so the firefighters remained outside and fought a defensive battle.

Mike Sikoryak, a nearby resident, said he was choking due to the smoke while waiting at the North Berkeley BART station — nearly 1.5 miles from the scene. James Sikoryak, another resident, remarked that the fire seemed to emit “electrical flashes that lit up the sky.”

The fire was the worst Berkeley has seen in more than two years, since a five-alarm fire near Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue in November 2011, according to Webb. Multimillion-dollar damages are expected, he said.

The approximately 18,000-square-foot building — about a third of a football field — remains under watch to ensure smoldering ash does not flare up, Webb said. According to McCracken, a fire truck will remain stationed until at least 8 a.m. Monday.

An investigation into the cause of the incident has begun. There has been no suspicion of foul play thus far, McCracken said.

Employees of the Wooden Duck, whose main studio was “incredibly fortunate” to remain intact according to McCracken, stood outside their office Sunday afternoon, almost in shock. According to general manager Jake Massler, even though the burnt warehouse contained mostly wood, workers had never seriously considered the building going up in flame.

“It’s always been a joke of ours,” said Alex Thurston, an employee of the Wooden Duck. “We never thought it would actually happen.”

Contact Sahil Chinoy at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @sahilchinoy_dc.