Flames rip through densely populated Oakland's Chinatown

Oakland firefighters on Wednesday raced to put out a five-alarm fire in Chinatown, a densely populated block of stores and restaurants.
Interim Fire Chief Melinda Drayton said the fire started in a dumpster behind 714 and 718 Webster Street and raced through the open spaces. The fire eventually took hold of a building that is home to more than a dozen businesses and runs along two-thirds of the block.

Mac Moore, who works as a security guard at a nearby bank, said he started knocking on the back doors of the businesses when he saw the dumpster fire. He said two men from a fruit stand helped him put out the initial fire, but flames caught hold of a wire that was hanging from the roof and the fire ran up the wall of the building.

The fire broke about 8:20 a.m., where businesses including Cathay Bank and the Salvation Army are nearby. At 9:15 a.m., firefighters upgraded the fire from three alarms to five. Firefighters had the fire under control about an hour after that. 

Roughly 80 firefighters were called to the scene. Crews rotated as they worked for two hours to knock down the flames by cutting trenches into the roof. They used multiple self-contained breathing apparatuses to help in their fight, according to Drayton.

“It's not a normal fire,” she said. “We normally go thru one or two tanks. We had firefighters going through four this morning before they got relief.”

Carl Chan, President of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, credited firefighters for their work. A total of 14 businesses were displaced.

“We are determined to rebuild Chinatown and making sure we will be helping our merchants and many of the small businesses to rebuild again,” Chan said.

Photos showed smoke and flames billowing from the rooftops above several restaurants as well.

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Drayton said firefighters will actively fight the blaze it until it is no longer tenable to be inside or on the roof. 

Despite the densely populated area, no injuries were reported. The cause of the fire in under investigation and the building has been red-tagged due to structural damage.