Berkeley firefighters battled back-to-back blazes that left seven people homeless and caused more than $250,000 in damage Tuesday morning.
Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong said the first call came at 5:34 a.m. from an apartment building in the 1300 block of Derby Street.
“On arrival, firefighters found one apartment unit fully involved,” he said.
The fire left the apartments’ two residents without a dwelling and killed their cat. Red Cross workers has located temporary quarters for one of the occupants, said the deputy chief.
It didn’t take long to find the cause. One of the tenants said a bed covering had ignited after it had come too close to an electric heater. “He tried to extinguish before calling 911,” said Deputy Chief Dong.
The preliminary estimate of damage to the apartment building was placed at $100,000, but the loss to contents hadn’t been finalized by Tuesday afternoon.
Firefighters returned to their station at 7:25 a.m., only to be summoned to another blaze four minutes later on Ashby Avenue at Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
“On arrival, they found smoke coming from the side of a two-story duplex,” said the deputy chief.
Moments later, the heat blew out a side window and flames leapt into the open air, scorching the side of the neighboring duplex and triggering a second alarm.
“We had 27 firefighters, five engines, two trucks, two paramedic units and three chief officers” fighting the blaze, he said.
Electrical power to the immediate area was also cut during the blaze to protect the emergency crews, and one of the five occupants displaced by the blaze was also evaluated for additional medical care.
The cause of the blaze remained under investigation Tuesday afternoon, but damage to the structure was set at $150,000, with damage to contents still to be determined.
While the dire damage was largely confined to the first-floor unit, the contents of the second-story apartment sustained extensive smoke damage, said Deputy Chief Dong.
In addition, the exterior of the nearby duplex suffered from paint damage.
The fire also forced the closure of MLK at one of Berkeley’s busier intersections, and the road remained closed at noon while investigators remained on scene seeking to learn the cause of the fire.
Five residents of the duplex were displaced by the fire, including one toddler.
Two Berkeley firefighters were waiting in Houston Tuesday morning to see if they’ll be needed in the emergency spawned by Hurricane Gustav.
Deputy Chief Dong said they had been dispatched to Lafayette, La., with the Oakland Fire Department’s Search and Rescue Team but learned they weren’t needed. They headed back to Houston to wait, in case they are needed elsewhere.
Flames gut popular Berkeley gas station
Flames gutted one of Berkeley’s busiest gas station early on the morning on Aug. 28, 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 a.m., 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.
Berkeley firefighters also handled a small Aug. 26 blaze that temporarily halted traffic on the BART near its North Berkeley Station.
The call came at 6:46 p.m., resulting in the dispatch of a single engine to the tracks at Curtis and Gilman streets.
On arrival, the firefighters saw smoke coming from the overhead tracks and called a first alarm. When the truck arrived, firefighters extended the ladder and climbed up to the tracks, while BART police shut down power to the third rail that powers the trains.
A quick investigation determined that a fiberglass covering had fallen onto the third rail, which packs of punch of 1000 volts of DC power.
After killing the flames with a dry chemical extinguisher, power was restored to the system and the trains rolled again after an hour’s delay.