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Five Who Survived

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday November 23, 2011 - 11:44:00 AM
Five who survived.
Ted Friedman
Five who survived.

Five students who survived Friday's blaze at the Sequoia apartments at Telegraph and Haste returned to the site Tuesday to see if they could re-enter the building to rescue a hamster named Tango. 

They could not [enter], and Tango is missing. 

The students believe everyone else got out of the burning building alive, although one woman had to leap into the arms of friends from a fire escape ladder that would not descend, according to the students. The woman was not hurt, they said. 

The Berkeley Fire Department's investigation into survivors may have been hampered by the lack of a tenants list, which burned in the fire, according to the students, Alexandria Lujan, Fabian Collazo, Jessica Watson, Hwa-Rim Lee, and Victor Palacioj. 

.As reported Saturday in the Planet, city officials have been unable to establish "whether all the occupants of the building got out."  

Phone questions, Wednesday, to police and fire about missing persons have not yet been answered. 

The students' last night in the building was to have been what one called a "pre-thanksgiving dinner. We were looking forward to pie and champagne for dessert, when the fire started," one said. "We never had that dessert." 

The students believe the fire started in the building's basement. They reported that a resident tried to extinguish flames with a pillow, but decided to leave the fire-fighting to pros. 

The students recalled that their building had what they called a "safety inspection" two days prior to the fire, in which batteries were replaced in individual smoke detectors, but that some of the detectors didn't work, even after the inspection. 

The building fire alarm worked just fine, though, the students reported. 

They were happy in the building in a one-bedroom apartment for which they paid $1,250 a month. 

One of the students estimated her losses to be $29,000. The hamster was priceless. The students said they are being assisted by the university's student advocates office, where an attorney is advising them on legal action to win compensation for their losses. They said that the Sequoia's owner has told them his insurance doesn't cover them. 

One of the students said she had just purchased a new MacBook which was lost in the fire. 

They are staying with friends but have been offered up to two months of student housing by the university. 

Signs posted in nearby businesses give the following number (510) 981-7368 to call if you were displaced by the Sequoia fire. 

Meanwhile conditions in the Sequoia neighborhood have improved. Amoeba opened Monday, and it is possible to walk from Dwight to Haste, and by late afternoon cars were allowed to turn left at Haste and Telegraph (directed the wrong-way, South, on Telegraph, which was one-way North). Cars had previously been blocked from this block, and from Haste. 

Although clever placement of barriers allows shoppers to reach businesses next door to the Sequoia, it is not yet possible to walk the block between Haste and Channing--disrupting North-South foot traffic on Telegraph. 


Ted Friedman reports for the Planet from the South side.