UPDATE: Four-Alarm Fire Near Lake Merritt Suspected Of Being Arson (PHOTO)
(BANT) – Arson investigators are now on the scene of a four-alarm fire that broke out early this morning at a building under construction near Oakland’s Lake Merritt, according to fire officials.
The building that burned, named the Alta Waverly, was to be at least six stories tall and feature 196 apartments as well as retail space. It was slated for completion in Spring 2018.
The fire, which broke out at about 4:30 a.m. at 2302 Valdez Street, bears some resemblance to a pair of suspected arson fires at a construction site in Emeryville in early July and mid-May.
All the fires started in the early morning hours, with the two Emeryville fires reported at 2:45 a.m. and 5 a.m., and all the fires broke out at apartment buildings under construction that were in advanced stages of completion.
Oakland Fire Department Interim Chief Darin White said arson investigators from Alameda County and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are on the scene of today’s conflagration, but he stopped short of calling the fire suspicious.
The first fire crews to arrive noticed heavy smoke and flames coming from center of the building and within moments called in additional fire crews due to the “size of the building and the conditions” of the blaze, White said.
About two hours after the fire started it caused part of the building to collapse across Valdez Street, and a crane at the construction site was spinning wildly for a time, buffeted by the intense heat, according to Battalion Chief Zoraida Diaz.
Firefighters were worried that the crane might collapse so crews pulled back to form a perimeter from which to blast water into the fire at a safe distance. Ultimately, the crane did not collapse but White said firefighters are unsure about its current stability.
The team of about 80 firefighters from Oakland, Alameda County, Albany and Berkeley were able to knock the fire down by about 7:30 a.m. and as of 8:30 a.m. it was about 85 percent contained, according to White.
No injuries have been reported and no additional fires were ignited by the copious amount of hot ash that blanketed surrounding neighborhoods, White said. Ash was sighted as far away as M.L.K. Jr. Way and 36th Street – roughly a mile away.
Firefighters were able to protect all the neighboring buildings, the closest of which sustained only heat damage due to the quick action of the first crews on the scene, White said.
Roughly 100 residents in nearby buildings were evacuated and remain unable to go back to their homes.
Kamilah Mims lives in an apartment building on Waverly Street next to the parking garage of the building that caught fire.
She was standing on Grand Avenue with her kitten Kango and watching firefighters battle the blaze. “We were sleeping around 5 a.m. when we heard a woman screaming there was a fire across the street,” she said.
Mims said she grabbed her kitten and evacuated her building. “We were scared, because we weren’t sure if it would spread or what would happen if the building came down,” she said. “I’m happy it didn’t spread.”
Sarah Tyack lives in the building at 100 Grand Ave., just across the street from where the fire broke out. She said she was in her apartment when she heard someone announce that there was a fire.
“At first I thought it was our building,” she said. Tyack looked out her window, saw flames and evacuated.
Pamela Caryl, a resident of 206 23rd St., said she was puzzled by being asked to evacuate because the fire was not in her building. She was told that the crane at the construction site was posing a danger to her building. Caryl said the fire really didn’t frighten her. She just felt inconvenienced.
Cathedral of Christ the Light Rev. James Matthews said he got a call at 5:15 a.m. to go and look out his window. Matthews saw flames that looked as if they were right across the street, which concerned him because he has an older cousin who lives at 100 Grand Ave.
He went to check on his cousin and as he returned the American Red Cross stopped him and asked him whether he would open the church to the people who had to evacuate.
The church opened its event center, which is typically used by businesses to hold conferences. Fortunately, it wasn’t already booked, Matthews said. Upwards of 150 evacuees used the center, which opened at about 6:30 a.m. By about 8 a.m. some of them had left, however, according to Matthews.
When asked what kind of reaction people had to the fire, Matthews said, “They were in shock.” But no life was lost, Matthews said to a group of evacuees, and that was the biggest concern. He told them now is a time for them to get to know each other, and the event center will be open as long as necessary, Matthews said.
“That’s what good neighbors are for,” he said.