A huge blaze, which has been described as the largest in the area since the Berkeley/Oakland Hills fire in 1991, burned inside the historic 39-unit Sequoias apartment building at Haste and Telegraph in Berkeley for seventeen hours on Friday night and most of the day Saturday. An estimated seventy residents were displaced and the building was gutted, making a subsequent investigation difficult, as investigators won't be allowed to enter the building.
The fire took more than six hours to contain and required a total of 61 firefighters, 17 fire engines, 10 chief officers and six paramedic ambulances on the scene. No injuries to residents or firefighters have been reported.
Businesses that were housed on the ground-floor of the building were also destroyed, including Cafe Intermezzo and Raleigh’s Bar & Grill. Cafe Intermezzo's Yelp page already notes the restaurant's closure, and patrons are mourning its loss. Fire officials told Mercury News that nearby roads will likely will be closed for days or weeks, but neighboring businesses will likely be able to reopen soon.
Witnesses say the flames began in the basement of the building inside an electrical panel below the building's elevator. The building had a long history of fires, including one on the roof earlier this year, and a commenter on the Daily Cal notes that the elevator kept catching on fire when they lived there in 1959. Many residents who spoke to the press said they initially ignored the fire alarms because they had experienced so many minor fires in the past.
Many residents and neighbors are blaming the owners, Greg and Kenneth Ent, for negligence. As Berkeleyside reports, lots of folks are worried that once the building's demolished, the land, which faces a vacant lot across the street, will also become a vacant lot.
Berkeley officials are requesting that residents of the building and others who were staying there call a non-emergency fire department number, 510-981-5900, so they can be sure all residents are safe.
Displaced residents can call the Red Cross at 510-595-4441 for help with shelter, food and clothing. Those looking to donate can also call 510-595-4441 or visit redcrossbayarea.org.
Many Cal students have kindly been offering shelter and support to the displaced residents, as indicated in the Daily Cal comments section.