A six-alarm fire ripped through a five-story apartment building under construction on Wednesday morning in Emeryville. The flames spread to nearby town homes, displaced neighbors and burned so hot that it melted car tires and cracked window panes.
The fire at "The Intersection" was reported at 2:30 a.m. in the residential section of a mixed-used project at 3838 San Pablo Avenue. Firefighters declared the fire contained just before 8 a.m., nearly six hours after it was reported. No injuries were reported but about 100 people from several nearby apartments and homes were evacuated to a nearby senior center. Just how it started is now the question that investigators will try to determine.
How the blaze started hasn't been determined, but Alameda County Fire Department officials have not ruled out the fact that fireworks may have sparked the blaze.
"We just had the Fourth of July," spokeswoman Aisha Knowles said. "There are a number of questions as far as whether illegal fireworks may have contributed to the cause of this fire."
The sight was both amazing and scary for neighbors.
"I woke up next to a firestorm," said Melvin Burns, who lives across the street and was jolted out of bed when he heard the wind blowing and saw fire coming out of the windows. "I was in a small panic. It took me ten minutes to realize that I needed to leave."
Camilla Tubbs, whose window faced the inferno, called the fire "something else."
Tubbs grabbed her dog Patsy when she was evacuated from her apartment complex around 3:30 a.m.
"The wind was blowing directly this way and the embers were raining down on this unit and all the way to the end of this street," she said.
Meanwhile, Marlo Ingram, who lives a couple blocks down the road from the five-story building that went up in flames, said, "I heard the sirens ... saw a little orange glow in the house, which didn't equate to a good thing."
There were 105 residential units in the apartment building that firefighters declared a total loss at what was formerly known as the "Maz" building. The entire project in the 3800 block of San Pablo Avenue includes 21,000 square feet of retail space, which was not destroyed in the fire. The developer of the project is Holliday Development of Oakland. The owners did not immediately respond for comment.
Aisha Knowles said several other nearby buildings, including condos and town homes, were affected because of the fire; though she didn't immediately know how many or how badly they were damaged. James Auto Shop was ravaged in the fire. And a row of cars parked along the street melted from the heat.
Early in the morning, flames could be seen from as far away as the Caldecott Tunnel and the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. Neighbors came outside to watch in awe and take pictures. At about 6 a.m., Burns wondered how he was going to get to work as his motorcycle was stuck on the street, barricaded inside the fire perimeter. Power had been shut off to most of the residents in the area.
Firefighters from Emeryville, Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Hayward, Albany, Livermore, Pleasanton and Alameda County fire departments all were called to help quash the flames. The sheriff's department sent up a drone to get a better view on the hot spots. And the American Red Cross dispatched workers to assist the displaced residents to the nearby senior center in Emeryville.
As investigators try to determine if fireworks played a role in the blaze, witness Kyle Currie thought at first that all the noise and popping noises were fallout from the Fourth of July.
"I thought they were fireworks," he said. "Then I realized, nope, I was wrong."