Fire burns through apartment complex at Telegraph Avenue, Dwight Way

Ethan Epstein/Staff

Two separate fires broke out in West Berkeley and the Southside area Sunday evening, the latter at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Dwight Way.

A fire broke out at 811 Carleton St. about 5:28 p.m., while a separate fire broke out about 5:30 p.m. at 2449 Dwight Way on the fourth floor of the Chandler apartment complex, according to Lavertta Sherman, a public safety dispatcher with Berkeley Police Department. Seven Berkeley Fire Department engines and two trucks were stationed at the Dwight Way fire.

Reports of heavy brown smoke coming from the fourth floor of the Chandler building were first called in at 5:29 p.m., and firefighters — ultimately totaling 33 — arrived on scene about four minutes later, according to BFD Battalion Chief Bill Kehoe, who said the primary focus was on evacuating occupants of the building.

The fire was brought under control after 40 minutes. Originally a single-alarm fire, it was upgraded to a two-alarm fire when crews arrived at the scene. Kehoe said that one person, who was disabled, was carried out of the building and taken to a nearby hospital with unknown injuries, and that two cats were also rescued from the building. Firefighters cut holes in the roof — which later partially collapsed — to clear out smoke, and the property manager banged on doors to alert residents.

According to Kehoe, no cause has yet been determined, but damages from the fire could be upward of $500,000.

John Howard, the building manager, said a couple of people on the roof smelled smoke and went downstairs to the fourth floor, where they saw flames bursting out, and pulled the fire alarm. Howard, who has lived in the building for more than 20 years, called 911 and helped evacuate occupants. They were later taken back into the building about 9 p.m. to briefly collect belongings.

The incident occurred in a business-dense area, with restaurants such as Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Moe’s Books neighboring the site. Dwight Way was blocked off from Telegraph Avenue to Dana Street.

Tony Moon, who works at Joshu-ya Brasserie, located next door to the building, said that flames appeared to be coming out of the windows at the back of the residence and that firefighters entered Joshu-ya, telling diners to evacuate the premises.

With two commercial buildings on fire in Berkeley, BFD received aid from Albany, Oakland, Alameda County, Alameda and Piedmont fire departments as part of mutual aid agreements, according to Kehoe.

“Our city is tapped out,” Kehoe said.

Firefighters will stay at the scene throughout the night to watch out for spot fires and salvage lower floors of the building that may suffer water damage from putting out the fire. Electricity and gas were shut off for the entire building. Because the building has been deemed uninhabitable, Red Cross volunteers will try to find shelter for residents.

According to Red Cross response administrator Ed Silva, the number of displaced residents coming to the Red Cross for assistance determines whether the organization simply provides funds for lodging to each household or needs to open a shelter, with the criterium of about 25 individuals needed to open a shelter. All displaced residents will also receive $125 in direct client assistance funding.

Howard, an artist, expressed concern that the water sprayed from the roof into the building would destroy his posters, which number at least 5,000.

The Chandler apartment complex, a four-story residence built in the 1920s with about 30 inhabitants, is owned by Virginia College Associates LP. Local restaurant Bleecker Bistro is located on the ground floor. For many years, it was owned by Barbara Moskowitz, the wife of the owner of Moe’s Books. A few graduate students live there, Howard said, but the building is occupied primarily by residents who work in the area.

Contact Katy Abbott and Adrienne Shih at [email protected].

Tags No tags yet