20-acre Berkeley Hills fire’s forward progress appears under control

Aslesha Kumar/Staff

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About 200 firefighters from nine local fire departments, including Berkeley Fire Department, Oakland Fire Department and the Alameda County Fire Department, responded to a 20-acre fire in the Berkeley Hills that caused evacuations at a number of campus properties.

The fire was located at the intersection of Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Fish Ranch Road, according to OFD spokesperson Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton. As of Wednesday at 6 p.m., the fire stretched over 20 acres and was 20 percent contained, according to Alameda County Fire Department. Fire department crews will be fighting the fire throughout the evening.

“We’re going to be there for a while,” Drayton said.

BFD left the scene about 6 p.m. Wednesday as there were no longer any fires burning in its jurisdiction, according to a Berkeley Police Department Nixle alert issued about 5:54 p.m. Wednesday.

UCPD also wrote in a Nixle alert issued about 6 p.m. Wednesday there was “no further threat to the campus and normal campus operations have resumed,” adding, however, that fire crews would remain on scene to monitor the situation and advising community members to continue to avoid the area.

A number of Berkeley Lab buildings and the Space Sciences Laboratory were evacuated throughout the day as precautionary measures, and two nearby youth camps with about 100 kids were voluntarily evacuated due to smoke entering the camp area. UCPD also recommended the Lawrence Hall of Science and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute be evacuated Wednesday afternoon. The UC Botanical Gardens were also closed because of the fire.

“We’re still looking at that northeast quadrant of the fire that’s giving us the most problem with that heavy vegetation and large trees,” Drayton said at a 5 p.m. press conference. “Extinguishment is unknown at this point in terms of time, and we’ll be here until the fire is out.”

Other fire departments responding include East Bay Regional Park District Fire Department, the Moraga-Orinda Fire District and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE.

One CAL FIRE crew member sustained a minor injury after falling 50 feet down a hill, but was treated on the scene and later transported to Highland Hospital for further treatment.

BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel said BPD and BFD received a report about 1:06 p.m. from a resident who saw “a column of smoke and flames” in the direction of the Berkeley Hills.

By about 2:30 p.m., several roads east of the campus had been closed due to the fire, including Grizzly Peak Boulevard between Centennial Drive and South Park Drive. UCPD asked community members to avoid the area to “allow crews to safely respond” to the situation.

Moraga-Orinda Fire District Fire Chief Stephen Healy held a press conference about 4 p.m., in which he called the fire a “hazardous operation” due to the large trees and rock fall. He added that there have been no reported injuries and no mandatory evacuations, although the Berkeley Lab has voluntarily evacuated as a precaution.

UCPD issued a Nixle alert about 2:42 p.m. warning of a pending power outage across campus caused by PG&E “requiring transformers to be shut down.” Later, about 6 p.m., UCPD issued a second alert indicating no campus power outage would be required.

UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich said although the campus had originally planned a campuswide power outage because of the fire, that outage has been canceled.

“PG&E was originally concerned about the fire burning through an area where there were transformers,” Reich said. “(But) the fire burned through that area and there were no obvious issues and so we’re not going to be shutting down power to the campus.”

The cause and exact origin of the fire have yet to be determined.

Contact The Daily Californian News Staff at [email protected]