Berkeley residents displaced by University Avenue fire

Sunny Shen/Senior Staff
Of approximately 20 Berkeley residents who were displaced by the Nov. 27 fire on University Avenue, seven required assistance finding shelter, according to Berkeley Fire Department spokesperson Keith May. The fire has also affected nearby businesses, including Imm Thai Street Food.

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The University Avenue fire that occurred Nov. 21 displaced about 20 Berkeley residents, in addition to blocking off car access to several businesses.

Originating from an under-construction building on the 2000 block of the street, the fire was first reported at 5:39 p.m. and blazed for several days. According to Berkeley Fire Department spokesperson Keith May, damage caused by the fire cannot yet be approximated.

“The building right next to the building of origin has been ‘yellow’ tagged and the residents are allowed back inside to retrieve their belongings but not stay at that building,” May said in an email.

May added that seven of the displaced residents required help finding shelter.

Sunny Lee, UC Berkeley assistant vice chancellor and dean of students, said in an email that the city’s Health, Housing and Community Services Department offered relocation assistance to displaced residents. The American Red Cross also provided those who were evacuated with hotel vouchers.

Several students contacted the campus Dean of Students office for aid, Lee added in the email. Based on a list obtained from the UC Berkeley Office of the Registrar, the office reached out to 27 students living on the affected block to offer assistance.

“Various departments on campus have supported students with academic and emotional support, finding alternative housing, and student technology needs,” Lee said in the email.

In addition to displacing residents, the fire caused some businesses on University Avenue to be evacuated, May said in the email.

According to Imm Thai Street Food owner Aya Amornpan, she was not able to open her restaurant until Nov. 25 in fear that the building where the fire originated would collapse.

The block is currently closed and inaccessible to cars, forcing customers to walk across the street to pick up their food, Amornpan said. She noted that business has declined significantly from the lack of traffic.

Amornpan added that she has not heard of any community outreach or fundraising efforts but received support from loyal customers on social media. She called upon the city to provide assistance for small businesses, which have been struggling from reduced patronage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fire marked “a pretty devastating setback” for the city’s housing and climate goals, as the building was set to provide about 50 new apartments, according to housing activist and East Bay Transit Riders Union volunteer Darrell Owens.

As the weather grows colder, May cautioned for possible fire hazards.

“As always, be very careful of any mobile heating equipment,” May said in the email. “Also, check to ensure that nothing is place over, or next to, heating vents and equipment.”

Tarunika Kapoor is a business and economy reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tkapoor_dc.