Campus office building in Anna Head complex catches fire

Photo of fireman walking out of a smokey house
Gavin Sagastume/Staff
After Monday's fire in a building associated with the Anna Head Alumnae Hall, an investigation is taking place to determine how to make the historic complex safer.

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A campus office building in the historic Anna Head complex caught on fire Monday, forcing students and staff to evacuate from the premises.

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, only one of the buildings — the Anna Head Alumnae Hall — was directly affected by the fire. The Anna Head Alumnae Hall was built in 1927, acquired by the University of California in 1964 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as the complex was originally home to the all-girls Anna Head School.

While no one was physically injured, the incident impacted multiple staff, faculty and students, Gilmore noted.

“We are grateful there were no physical injuries and thankful for the fire and police departments’ prompt response, including the safe evacuation of a small number of staff and students who were initially trapped inside,” Gilmore said in an email.

The Anna Head complex is made up of several satellite offices that house campus services and organizations, including University Health Services counseling staff, the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, or ISSI, and various other groups.

According to UCPD public information officer Lt. Sabrina Reich, there remains an ongoing investigation into the cause of the fire.

Robin Marsh, an ISSI researcher with an office located in the Anna Head complex, was inside the building when the fire broke out.

She recalls her and her students smelling smoke while they were on the second floor of the building. By the time they realized they had to evacuate, the conditions were too dangerous for them to travel down the stairs, Marsh said.

“My students got very scared, and they felt it was best to close the door and not expose ourselves to that dark smoke,” Marsh said. “We opened the windows and they were calling for help, calling for the fire department.”

She noted the fire department seemed to have responded very quickly.

According to Reich, this is the fifth fire to have occurred near the Anna Head buildings in the past two years.

Gilmore noted campus officials have reached out to the individuals and units that were directly impacted by the fire to make “temporary accommodations” and provide them with the appropriate resources.

She added that the campus will be performing a “full assessment” to determine the extent of the damage, the feasibility and cost of repairs, as well as the future use of the building. Marsh said her personal wish would be for the campus and the city of Berkeley to come together to restore and protect the building.

The complex is to remain off limits until the assessment is completed, which Gilmore noted will take at least several weeks.

“We have always been in favor of the university and the city of Berkeley investing resources in this historic building to make it safe for the large student community that have offices there,” Marsh said. “A solution is needed, but we don’t know what that solution is.”

Contact Olivia Branan at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @BrananOlivia.