125 firefighters battle Oakland blaze

Bay City News
Thursday October 05, 2000

A six-alarm fire decimated an abandoned building near Downtown Oakland this morning, and burning embers carried in the wind started another fire, damaging two occupied buildings across the street. 

No one was injured in the fires, although some of the occupied apartments were damaged and the Red Cross is offering assistance to some of the 50 people who were evacuated. 

Oakland fire Capt. Vicky Evans-Robinson said the fire was first reported at 4:01 a.m. by someone who smelled smoke in the Telegraph Avenue area but could not see any flames. 

An engine was sent to investigate the report and firefighters found a full-blown blaze tearing through the basement of the building located at 2421 Telegraph Ave., she said. 

As the fire escalated, the firefighters backed out and called for help. A first alarm was called at 4:09 a.m. with successive alarms called up until the sixth at 4:57 a.m. Some 125 firefighters and almost two dozen engines and seven trucks were called to the scene to engage the flames. The Alameda County Fire Department also provided personnel. 

The brown brick building, owned by Telegraph Gateway Apartment Inc., has been vacant since the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, Evans-Robinson said. Like many of the buildings in the area, it consists of a first floor of commercial space with several floors of housing stacked on top. 

At 7:30 a.m., flames could still be seen burning steadily from behind the window openings. All of the windows were boarded before the fire, but flames consumed the wooden coverings. Through the smoke-tainted openings, bystanders could see the charred remains of the floors of the top three stories that had caved in, and the gray morning sky where the ceiling once stood. 

Evans-Robinson said that wood within the building fed the fire and helped the flames ravage the structure, while the brick exterior nestled the heat like an oven. 

Oakland building officials, concerned that the building would collapse, deemed it unsafe for entry. From two ladder trucks, firefighters doused the building with water to keep the flames at bay. 

The fire was under control at 6:37 a.m., Evans-Robinson said.  

Damage at that building is estimated at $1.5 million. 

The fire, which witnesses said created flames that were more than 10 feet high, spewed bits of burning embers. Some of those embers flew north diagonally, across the street and lodged between two buildings, located at 2404 and 2414 Telegraph Ave. 

That started a second fire at 5:27 a.m. By the time it was controlled at 6:15, Evans-Robinson said, some 50 residents had been evacuated and the damage was estimated at $300,000. All of the 15 apartment units within the buildings sustained water damage, she said, and top floors were damaged by fire. 

Treba Barrett, who lives above an adult video store and arcade at 2404 Telegraph Ave., said that her family, her husband and two children woke up when family members who also live in the building knocked on the door to tell them about the fire across the street. 

Barrett, who turned 25 today, said the residents began to douse the roof of their buildings with water. She said she knew something bad was going to happen when she saw the embers, about the size of charcoal bricks, flying through the air. 

She believes firefighters could have done more to prevent the fire from spreading to her building. 

“They just let it be,” she said, “until the roof caught on fire, and once it caught on fire they evacuated the building.  

“I think the whole thing would have been prevented if they would have wet the roof down.” 

Evans-Robinson said that additional firefighters were called to the scene due to concern about the flying embers. They kept watch from nearby rooftops for burning debris, she said. But before the fire spread, she said, there was no need to evacuate nearby residents. 

The cause of the original fire is still under investigation. Evans- Robinson said she did not know if anyone was squatting in the abandoned building, but Barrett said that drug users “go in and out” of the it all the time.