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Fire victims set to go home

Sophia Tareen
Thursday October 17, 2002

If all goes well, the 69 residents of UA Homes who were displaced by fire in August will be able to return home next week. 

Officials from Resources for Community Development (RCD), which owns the burned three-story apartment building at 1040 University Ave., and property managers from the John Stewart Company announced Wednesday a tentative Oct. 22. move-in date. 

The date, though, is optimistic, said Linda Webster, director of operations at RCD, and depends on the outcome of pending safety inspections. 

“These next few days are kind of crucial,” Webster said. “Some of the last minute work is [still] being done [to make the building livable again.]” 

RCD has spent more than $100,000 to house the displaced tenants, most of whom rely on federal housing subsidies to pay rent at UA Homes, said Kerry Williams, asset manager for RCD. 

Berkeley law requires landlords to pay tenants the difference in rent when tenants are abruptly displaced and forced to pay more. 

The fire, which swept through a light well Aug. 26, still has no known source of ignition, fire officials say. Officials, though, suspect that debris found in the light well such as newspapers and an old suitcase fueled the blaze.  

The fire spread from the light well to each floor severely damaging at least eight units near the center of building. However, sprinklers kept the fire from sweeping through the rest of the structure, officials said.  

“Light wells are a problem from the past. We were lucky to hold off the fire to a localized area,” said David Orth, assistant fire chief of the Berkeley Fire Department. “The building has stood up really well.” he added, explaining that a fire of this magnitude could have brought UA Homes to the ground. 

The city has concerns about keeping the light wells at UA Homes safe in the future. 

“It certainly raises issues for future management for keeping the light well safe,” said Steve Barton of the Berkeley Housing Authority, adding that the light wells would have to be carefully monitored. “There may well need to be some further work with the tenants.”