'Everything Was Orange': 3-Alarm Fire Rages at Under-Construction Apartment Building in Concord

'This is the largest fire in memory here,' Concord Mayor Edi Birsan said

What to Know

  • The building that caught fire is considered to be a total loss with approximately $55 million in damages
  • 250 residents at a nearby apartment building were forced to evacuate as a result of the fire
  • Several roads surrounding the scene of the blaze have been closed while crews mop up and investigate

A wall of scaffolding five stories high collapsed Tuesday at the scene of a three-alarm fire that started at a 180-unit apartment complex that was still under construction in Concord.

Firefighters anticipate the structure could collapse further, Assistant Fire Chief Terence Carey of the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District said.

The collapse came after towering flames ripped through the building just before 1 a.m., resulting in 250 people being displaced from their nearby apartment complex and two people suffering from minor smoke inhalation, according to fire officials.

The blaze, which broke out in the area of Galindo Street and Concord Boulevard, was pronounced under control after an hours-long onslaught from firefighters, but the building is considered to be a total loss with approximately $55 million in damages. 

"This is the largest fire in memory here," Concord Mayor Edi Birsan said. "Fifty-five million dollars is a substantial amount and will be an impact on the city."

Residents in the Renaissance Square apartments were forced to evacuate as a result of the nearby inferno, according to fire officials. A fire official said evacuation orders were issued "out of an abundance of caution."

Fire crews will be on scene until Wednesday morning working on hot spots. 

Flames engulfed a building in Concord Tuesday morning. The apartment building was under construction.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, with the assistance from police and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The San Diego Fire Department also deployed a K-9 arson unit to assist in the investigation.

Resident Bea Ruiz remembers waking up to a firestorm raging near her home.

"I open my eyes and everything was orange in my backyard," she said. "I was just, like, nervous. I didn't know what to do, so I got up, I woke up my kids. Once I got them out, I ran running like crazy and just started banging on everybody's houses."

Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Robert Marshall said there is a concrete parking garage at the center of the fire site. The wooden, under-construction apartment building wrapped around the garage is what caught fire.

"Because of the stage of construction that the building was in, the fire spread very rapidly through all portions of this structure that was under construction," Marshall said.

It is not clear when the displaced residents from the nearby apartment building will be allowed to return to their homes, according to fire officials. Crews are evaluating the stability of the structure that was torched. There is a risk that the burned structure could fall.

Dariana Mihalache, one of those people who was forced to flee to safety in the early-morning hours, said she was overcome by shock when she saw sparks and smoke.

"My dad burst through the room," she said. "He's like, 'Just get out of the building. Go the opposite way.' I can't really describe the feeling. You never think it's going to happen to you until it does, and you just don't know how to react."

It is not clear at this time what sparked the blaze. Fire officials are conducting an investigation, which is expected to last several days, according to fire officials. 

A number of roadways surrounding the scene of the blaze have been closed while crews mop up and investigate, according to police. Willow Pass Road at Sutter Street, Willow Pass Road at Mira Vista Terrace, Clayton Road at Mira Vista Terrace, Galindo Street at Clayton Road, Concord Boulevard at Grant Street, and Willow Pass Road at Mt. Diablo Street were all closed as of 8 a.m.

It is not clear when the roadways and intersections will reopen, but the heart of downtown Concord including Todos Santos Plaza is accessible.

"Downtown Concord is open for business," Concord Police Department Lt. Nick Gartner said. "The plaza is accessible, but the surrounding area around this block where the structure fire took place is going to be shut down so public safety can do their work."

A public health advisory was issued for areas near downtown as a result of the blaze, but the advisory was later called off once air quality conditions improved, according to Contra Costa County Health Services.

Roughly 70 firefighters and 18 pieces of firefighting apparatus were called out to fight the fire, Marshall said.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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