Fire erupts at affordable housing complex under construction in Berkeley

A six-alarm fire erupted in downtown Berkeley Saturday evening, forcing evacuations and threatening nearby structures.

The fire was called in around 5:45 p.m. and was initially three-alarms, but quickly grew to six-alarms.

Shortly after it started, flames were seen shooting out of the multi-story apartment building, which was under construction in the two-thousand block of University Avenue near Shattuck Ave.

A nearby restaurant worker watched the building get swallowed up in flames.

“The fire, flames, too much fire, flames, middle part of the building.  It’s like going higher and higher,” said Neetu Aggarwar, who was working nearby at Barbarian Grub and Ale.

“Yeah, the whole entire building was kind of like up in flames,” said Helena Santos, as she watched the action nearby.

As the fire grew, mutual aid from at least a half dozen departments were called in to help wrestle the flames down.

“And we saw a bunch of fire trucks come down the street just blaring away.  And we run outside down the street and we look up and it looked like just the top of the building was on fire for a minute,” said Viego Stern who lives nearby.

When firefighters realized that flames could spread and there may be other risks, they began evacuating dozens of nearby businesses, apartment buildings, and moved onlookers back.

“You know a cop walked over here like 20 minutes ago and said the structure was going to fall,” said Stern.

“We had fire threatening the building around it, multiple apartment buildings and businesses, all of which have been evacuated,” said Berkeley Fire Chief Dave Brannigan.

No one was inside the building as the fire got started, according to firefighters.

Unable to gain access inside, firefighters were forced to play defense, attacking from the flames from outside.

By 9 p.m., the fire was well under control, as firefighters continued working to completely stamp it out.

“At that point we’ll have investigators get with the owners, the construction company and anybody who might have seen anything to try to figure out what happened,” said Brannigan.

The chief says flames were able to get into a nearby apartment building, but firefighters quickly put them out.

No injuries were reported, and the cause of the fire is unknown.