Berkeley residents, students displaced after Downtown fire last week

Aslesha Kumar/Staff

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About 30 Berkeley residents, many of whom were students, were displaced last week following a building fire in the Hillside Village complex on Shattuck Avenue and Delaware Street.

The fire directly affected two units in the complex, and water and smoke damage were reported in several other units. By the time the Berkeley Fire Department arrived on the scene at 6:55 p.m., most of the residents had evacuated the building.

According to BFD Deputy Fire Chief Donna McCracken, the fire was likely caused by an electrical issue. No civilian or firefighter injuries were reported.

The fire originated in the ceiling space between two separate third-floor units. One of the units was empty and undergoing construction, and the other was occupied.

BFD Battalion Chief Bill Kehoe, who responded to the fire Tuesday night, said it was initially difficult to ascertain the location of the fire because of the lack of smoke.

Kehoe added that this fire was unusual because the extreme heat caused a water pipe’s soldering to melt, triggering a rupture that flooded the apartments. This break caused water damage to the building, but also helped control a fire that may have otherwise affected much more of the apartment complex.

“I would say that’s probably what saved the building, because had that not happened, we would have showed up and the fire would probably have taken control of the whole top floor,” Kehoe said. “It would have been a totally different story.”

BFD provided a rough estimate of damages at $100,000. None of the surrounding businesses were reported to have any fire or water damage.

The Red Cross aided displaced residents by providing them with resources to meet their immediate needs. Assistance typically ranges from supplying food, clothing and health services to helping displaced residents find short-term housing, according to Olga Crowe, the American Red Cross disaster program manager for Alameda County.

After the fire was extinguished, BFD escorted residents to their rooms using flashlights to help them retrieve important objects. Kehoe noted that many of the residents were students who needed materials for upcoming finals.

“We released the building back to the custody of the building owner, so it’s up to the building owner to get it habitable again,” McCraken said.

According to Kehoe, the displaced residents are anticipated to be allowed back in the building Friday once the building finishes cleaning and repairs the electricity and water services.