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Arson Suspected in Latest CA Construction Blaze

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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Arson investigators parsed through the charred remains Monday morning (July 10) of a fire that ripped through an Oakland, California, construction site early last Friday (July 7).

What Happened

Fire crews received a call around 4:30 a.m. Friday for a fire at the construction site of Alta Waverly—a seven-story mixed-use building that was slated to eventually house 196 families upon its official opening next spring.

When crews arrived just four minutes after receiving the call, the building was already engulfed, the flames exacerbated by construction materials at the site, officials said.

“The first units arriving saw heavy smoke billowing from the center of the structure and the fire was rapidly extending,” said Oakland’s interim fire chief Darin White. “Units summoned additional alarms.”

About 80 firefighters from Berkeley, Albany and Alameda County battled the blaze and brought it under control around 7:24 a.m.

Loose Crane

Shortly after firefighters arrived at the scene, part of the building collapsed and the heat was forcing a construction crane to swing back and forth in the air. Because of these added dangers, barricades were put up around the site and several neighboring buildings were evacuated, displacing at least 700 people the morning of the fire.

The precarious crane kept some people from returning to their homes until Saturday, when crews brought it down via excavator that evening. Another commercial building located a block away was evacuated on Sunday, however, because of falling debris believed to have been related to the fire.

As of Sunday night, all but two buildings’ residents were back in their homes, leaving those residents still displaced by the fire.

No injuries were reported.

“With a fire this size it is a miracle that we have had no loss of life, no injuries,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Suspicious Start

While the fire is still under investigation by both Alameda County, the Oakland Fire Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, some are pointing to the blaze as just another in a string of construction site arsons within recent years.

The San Francisco Chronicle points it as the fifth of such fires in the area, and highlighted the previous four.

  • June 14, 2012: A fire tore through a construction site for the Red Star senior living complex causing $25 million in damage. That project was two months from opening and has not been rebuilt.
  • Oct. 31, 2016: A fire gutted a three-story apartment complex that was set to be completed months later in February. At that time, there was an estimated $2 million in damage.
  • July 2016 and May 2017: A $35 million mixed-use project was hit by fire twice. This project is slated to be rebuilt for a third time.

Arson has been confirmed as the cause of all of the previous four fires, and officials are circulating security camera images obtained from the most recent blaze of a man labeled as a suspect. A $100,000 reward is being offered to anyone with information that leads to the conviction of the arsonist.

Developers are now tasked with hiring guards for their construction sites and city officials are stuck with an even bigger uphill climb to fight the housing shortage.

“Oakland is in the middle of a housing crisis, and the loss of these valuable units only exacerbates it,” said Schaaf.

“Burning down housing doesn’t help make #Oak housing more affordable. It only speeds up displacement of existing residents,” added city councilman Abel Guillen via Twitter.


Tagged categories: Construction; Fire; Good Technical Practice; North America; Residential Construction; Safety

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