Flames Gut Popular Berkeley Gas Station

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday August 28, 2008 - 03:04:00 PM

Flames gutted one of Berkeley’s busiest gas station early Thursday morning, causing more than $700,000 in damage to the independent station U.S. Smog & Gas at 3000 Shattuck Ave. 

The station, run since 1996 by Shahzad Kahn and owned by him since 2003, has consistently undersold most gas stations in the East Bay. 

But the flames that were first reported at 2:54 a.m. were going strong by the time the first Berkeley Fire Department unit arrived moments later, said Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong. 

By the time the flames were controlled at 3:40, 16 fire department personnel were on the scene. 

“They also had to protect the buildings nearby by,” said the deputy chief, including a home to the south on Shattuck and an apartment building to the west on Ashby Avenue. 

Some of the damage was inflicted by the firefighters themselves, as they were forced to cut through the station’s expensive roll-up doors that cover its garage bays. 

The official damage estimate is $500,000 in loses to the structure and $200,000 to contents, including expensive electronic gear used in smog-testing. 

“We also had PG&E come out to cut off the power to the building,” said Deputy Chief Dong. “We also notified the city’s Toxic Division to determine what kind of cleanup would be required.” 

Because the flames never reached the gas pumps outside, there was little danger of a gasoline fire, he said. 

Investigators have traced the origin of the blaze to an electrical problem, which may have involved both a heater and a refrigerator condenser. 

The gas station was also the location of a “spite fence” erected by Kahn to prevent the owner of the apartment building at 2076 Ashby Ave. from painting the eastern side of his building. 

Kahn had claimed that Athan Magannas had built the structure a foot over the property line, and demanded a six-figure payment. 

Magannas finally solved the problem by hiring workers to rappel down the side of the two-story structure and cover it with siding in the middle of the night.