A five-alarm fire ripped through a sprawling residential construction site in Oakland early Tuesday morning, marking the latest in a series of massive blazes that have ignited at under-construction housing complexes in the East Bay in recent years.
Tuesday's blaze erupted around 2 a.m. at a multi-family residential complex located near West Grand Avenue and Filbert Street, Oakland Fire Department Chief Darin White said, roughly one hour before firefighters responded to a report of an attempted arson at an another under-construction building on nearby Peralta Street.
"We do not know whether (the construction site) fire was caused by an arsonist, but we do know that arsonists have been trying to burn down housing projects in Oakland," Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said.
Footage of Tuesday's roaring inferno captured towering flames light up the night sky and embers drifting through the air while crews doused the flames from extended ladders.
"The fire rapidly grew in size," Oakland Fire Department Deputy Chief Nick Luby said.
The complex contains six structures at various stages of construction, according to Luby. At least four of those structures were determined to be a total loss, he added.
Luby would not say if the fire was considered to be suspicious hours after it broke out, but the cause of the blaze is under investigation. A national response team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is expected in Oakland Wednesday morning to investigate the blaze.
Officials are also investigating the report of the attempted arson Tuesday morning at 3266 Peralta St., which is located about one mile from the construction site, according to White.
"With that, we're on heightened alert and awareness trying to ensure that we do our due diligence to understand what happened here and whether or not the two incidents are related," White said.
Back in 2016 and 2017, suspicious fires burned at the same under-construction apartment complex in Emeryville. Those blazes were both ruled as arson. Earlier this year, another under-construction apartment building in Concord was ruled a total loss after it went up in flames.
Phil Kerr, CEO of City Ventures Homebuilding, said security cameras and a security guard were in place at the time of Tuesday's "Ice House" construction site blaze in Oakland.
"We specifically put cameras in place here given some of the concern that's been expressed in Oakland relative to fires," Kerr said.
City Ventures were building 126 townhomes that would go on sale "for less than the cost to rent in the Bay Area," the company said in a statement. It said over 52 families have already purchased a home and it will work with buyers to determine their on-going interests while it works to rebuild.
In addition to the construction site blaze, at least two other fires ignited on nearby Isabella Street, White said. White suspects that embers from the roaring blaze sparked those fires.
Roughly two dozen people in the area surrounding the construction site were evacuated as a result of the fire, according to the fire department. About six to eight people remain displaced, White said.
At the height of the fire, about 90 firefighters were on scene to fight the flames, White said.