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Three-Alarm Blaze Breaks Out In Willard Park Neighborhood

By Rio Bauce and Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday August 11, 2006

Fire’s Damage Estimated at $1 Million 


A blazing fire which erupted at a large two-story five-unit housing complex at 2626 Hillegass Ave. on Wednesday afternoon reportedly caused damages in excess of a million dollars. 

According to investigations completed by Berkeley Fire Department officials on Thursday afternoon, the fire started in a rubbish container in the exterior stairwell of the building, and the heat was able to penetrate through the windows and get inside the building. It then mushroomed its way into the attic, causing extensive damage to the roof and the second floor as well as the first floor. 

“We don’t know what caused the fire in the rubbish container but the Fire Department thinks it’s accidental. Once a fire gets into something like an attic, it spreads very fast. There were smoke and water damages on the first floor, fire damages on the exterior of the second floor as well as the roof,” said Assistant Fire Chief Rod Foster. 

The fire was reported at 4:03 p.m., a second alarm was reported at 4:07 p.m., and the third alarm was called at 4:25 p.m. The firefighters reported that they had contained the fire at 5:07 p.m. The Berkeley Fire Department had also requested mutual assistance from the Oakland, Albany, and Alameda County Fire Departments. 

According to an eyewitness, six homeless people saw the fire from Willard Park and ran inside the building, but didn’t see anyone. It was reported that nobody was inside when the fire broke out. The building, which is located half a block from Willard, was built in 1923. 

According to Fire Department officials, the fire was pretty severe and had a total of six injuries, three of which were sustained by firefighters. One firefighter fell down some stairs and the other suffered from heat exhaustion, according to Foster. 

The third firefighter was allowed to carry on working after being assessed on the spot. Two of the homeless people who saw the fire from Willard Park and ran into the house to help also suffered injuries, from smoke inhalation and cuts on the leg. 

“It was a very challenging and difficult fire, especially because it was an attic fire,” said Assistant Chief Gil Dong, BFD. “Four of the casualties were transported to Alta Bates, the local hospital, and two firefighters were treated onsite for minor burns.” 

“We essentially had four units out,” said Dong.” Right now, the injuries sustained by firefighters and civilians are not life-threatening.”  

George Oram, nearby resident and Berkeley realtor, estimated that the value of the complex was close to $1,250,000. He described the aftermath as “a big traffic jam and a wave of smoke”. 

Robert L. Kish, a real estate attorney from Richmond, owns the property, according to public records. He could not be reached by phone. The last sale of the property occurred in 1994.  

The site used to be occupied by the Berkeley Tennis Club. 

“We built a clubhouse at 2643 Hillegass Ave. on Jan. 8, 1906,” said Geoff Hayes, manager at the Berkeley Tennis Club. “I think that the tennis courts were built shortly after that date on the 2626 Hillegass property. Then the apartment complex was built a little later.”