Two area businesses destroyed but no one injured
A quick-spreading fire destroyed two Telegraph Avenue business before Berkeley and Oakland fire fighters could bring the four-alarm blaze under control.
The fire apparently started in the boiler room of Milt’s Coin-Op Laundry at 3055 Telegraph Ave. around 4:45 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, quickly spread throughout the attic and then into the adjoining business, Avenue Liquors at 3051 Telegraph Ave.
Fire Officials estimated that the blaze, which sent up a plume of dark gray smoke visible for miles around, caused at least $700,000 damage. No injuries were reported.
“I had just changed my clothes and was ready to go home when somebody started screaming there was smoke,” said Laundry owner Gary Kim. “Then I saw smoke coming out of the back room where the water tanks are.”
Kim said his wife, one employee and several customers were inside the Laundry when the fire broke out. “We are very lucky everybody got out and is safe,” he said.
Fire Chief Reginald Garcia said the flames, which took two hours to bring under control, spread so quickly that within 15 minutes of the first fire engines arriving on scene, the fire was upgraded to three alarms.
“At that stage we essentially had all of the Berkeley Fire Department here,” he said.
But even with all of Berkeley’s available hands on deck, the fire was not under control. Garcia said that soon after the fire was upgraded to a fourth alarm, which brought in three units from the Oakland Fire Department.
“This was a very hard fire to fight because it spread so quickly,” he added.
Berkeley police blocked off traffic on Telegraph Avenue between Ashby and Alcatraz avenues and about 20 police officers were on scene to control the crowd of approximately 300 people who gathered across the street from the Laundry to watch the blaze.
On Sunday morning Assistant Fire Chief Lucky Thomas said the cause of the fire was still being investigated. “We’ll have security posted around the site tonight, and tomorrow we’ll bring in a back hoe to help us find out where the fire started,” he said.
The two businesses burned by the fire are surrounded by single-family homes. Several neighbors on Prince Street and Dowling Place were evacuated from their homes until the fire was brought under control.
Thomas O’Connell, who lives immediately behind the Laundry at 2413 Prince St., was watching flames shoot up from the Laundry roof about 70 feet from the rear of his home when a fire fighter asked him to evacuate.
“I’ll think I’ll take your advice,” O’Connell said, answering the firefighter and then left his home without taking any possessions.
Avenue Liquor owner Charlie Huh stood across the street from the fire and watched as smoke billowed out of the broken windows of his store. “Somebody came in yelling ‘call 911, call 911’ and then we saw the smoke and got out of the store,” he said.
Regina Tolliber and her mother, Evelyn Richardson had just put several loads of laundry in the dryer and gone next door to the liquor store when smoke came billowing out the front door of the Laundry.
“I tried to get back in to get my clothes but it was already too late,” said Tolliber who works as nurse. “Most all of my clothes and all of my uniforms are still in there.”