Arson Displaces Residents, Chars South Berkeley Buildings

Anybody with information about this incident can call the Berkeley Property Crimes Detail at 981-5737.

Nate Tabak covers crime. E-mail him at [email protected].

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A fire that burned three buildings and displaced eight people in South Berkeley Thursday night was set intentionally, police said yesterday.

The three-alarm blaze began shortly before 6:43 p.m. inside a small courtyard at Adeline and Harmon streets.

No injuries were reported, but the fire caused about $130,000 in damage to a liquor store and two apartment buildings and their contents, said Berkeley Assistant Fire Chief David Orth.

"We just got really lucky," Orth said, crediting "the hard work by the firefighters" with preventing more serious damage.

The fire was suspicious in origin, Orth said Friday, but would not say why.

The blaze is being investigated as an arson, Berkeley police Lt. Eric Gustafson said yesterday. Gustafson could not provide information about why police suspect foul play.

It took 37 Berkeley firefighters-the entire on-duty force-about three and a half hours to get the fire under control.

Although the fire's size required a large response, the affected buildings were spared of any serious damage, Orth said.

The fire spread from the courtyard, and ignited a wall and a tree, sending flames shooting 30 to 40 feet into the air.

A vacant three-story apartment at 1833 Harmon Street sustained the most extensive damage, with fire reaching every level.

Fire also spread to the adjacent J & B Fine Foods & Liquor at 3242 Adeline Street and the apartments above it.

At one point, firefighters were forced to run hose lines through the buildings in order to reach parts of the blaze.

"It's very hard to fight a fire in three different buildings," Orth said.

Eight residents were forced out of their apartments at the onset of the blaze.

Several residents returned after the fire was out because the second floor was relatively unscathed, Orth said.

The American Red Cross provided shelter to the remaining residents. It was not known how many had returned or were back in their homes as of yesterday.

Oakland and Albany firefighters covered Berkeley calls during the fire. Orth said the fire did not affect response to other emergencies.


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