Flames gutted most of the interior of two third-floor Berkeley apartments Tuesday as firefighters and neighbors worked to evacuate tenants.
The flames broke out shortly before noon in a third-floor unit at Rus-Tel Apartments, 2321 Russell St.
One neighbor said two other residents of the building had delayed calling 911 in hopes they could contain the fire themselves.
Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Revilla said the fire began in apartment 3D and spread to an adjacent unit to the south. “It went to a second alarm before it was extinguished,” he said.
While no firefighters were injured, one resident—the tenant of the apartment where the fire began—was taken to the hospital, “but that was mostly for an existing condition,” said the firefighter.
Neighbors said many of the residents of the stucco-clad 1960s-era building have mobility problems and many are elderly, and the occupant of the second fire-damaged unit is confined to an electric scooter.
Revilla said the occupants of both damaged apartments will have to be relocated, and shortly after the flames were quenched, Red Cross workers were interviewing the resident of the second apartment to find quarters for her and make arrangements with her caregiver.
Iris, who did not want her last name used, discovered the fire after a three-story elevator ride up to her apartment.
“When the elevator doors opened, the flames were shooting out his door. His apartment was totally engulfed,” she said.
Iris made it to her apartment, gathered up essential belongings and headed back downstairs and to the street outside, where she waited for more than an hour until firefighters were able to recover her scooter and bring it down.
Assistant Chief Revilla estimated the damage to the apartments as at least $50,000.
At its peak, the flames were so intense that the aluminum frames of the windows in both apartments melted, flowing down the outside walls and collecting like icicles as it dripped off a rain-gutter drainpipe.