A team of federal arson experts arrived Wednesday, launching an investigation to locate the source of the massive three-alarm Oakland fire that shut down BART and triggered a Bay Area transportation system meltdown.
The three-alarm fire was reported at 2:15 a.m. June 14th and burned for more than an hour at a wooden construction site near the West Oakland station, spreading to nearby buildings, lampposts and elevated BART tracks, damaging the protective covering on BART's electrified third rail.
Damage from the fire forced BART to shut down train service between the East Bay and San Francisco for several hours, triggering a public transit nightmare as ferry and bus services were overwhelmed.
ATF agent Christian Hoffman said the team of federal investigators and search dogs that assembled in Oakland Wednesday has a wealth of experience including the Oklahoma City bombing and the Olympic Park bombing at the Atlanta Summer Olympics.
“We have certified fire investigators, we have accelerator detecting K-9s on scene, we have mappers, we have chemical engineers and chemists,” Hoffman said describing the team of 22 experts that have been assembled.
But the search will not be easy. Four floors of the senior housing project that was under construction have collapsed into a mound of charred debris.
The team will be meticulously excavating through the mound, examining the burn patterns of the wooden debris in an attempt to determine where and how the two-block-long conflagration began.
“This will be a many day investigation,” he told reporters. “It’s like sifting for gold. We have to go through each piece. We are going to be taking all the pieces down from that construction site to examine it and make sure we don’t overlook any piece of evidence.”
Watchdogs are questioning an exclusive agreement between the City of Oakland and a non-profit group, tapped to lead a multi-million dollar project to redevelop the area around the Coliseum BART station.