Berkeley five-alarm fire hurts businesses

November 23, 2011 1:07:49 PM PST
A five-alarm fire that gutted a four-story apartment building at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street near the University of California at Berkeley has hurt businesses in the neighborhood, the head of a merchants' group said today.

Roland Peterson, president of the Telegraph Property and Business Management Group, said "most businesses have had some degree of loss" and that three remain closed in the wake of the fire, which was reported at 8:48 p.m. Friday but wasn't contained until after 3 a.m. Saturday.

No one was injured in the blaze, which caused more than $2 million in structural damage and the loss of more than $500,000 in contents, Berkeley Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong said.

The building, which housed the 39-unit Sequoia Apartments as well as Cafe Intermezzo and Raleigh's Bar and Grill, has been red-tagged by city officials who have deemed it unsafe to enter. The restaurant Thai Noodle II, located next door, is also closed because of safety concerns.

The city has cordoned off Telegraph Avenue between Haste Street and Channing Way for the same reason.

Peterson said, "Accessibility is an important issue because it's now more difficult to get to the stores here. This was a pleasant walking environment, but the fire took out a big chunk of it."

He said city officials are working with the owner of the apartment building to try to stabilize the building as soon as possible and put up scaffolding to prevent loose bricks from falling onto the sidewalk or street. City officials have said the building may eventually need to be at least partially demolished.

Peterson said he hopes the situation improves before the annual Telegraph Holiday Street Fair begins on Dec. 16, because the fair usually brings in a lot of business.

Craig Becker, the owner of the Caffe Mediterraneum at 2475 Telegraph Ave., which is located about half a block south of the burned-out apartment building, said, "The fire's impact on this street has been bad."

Becker said business at the cafe, which was a pioneer in bringing espresso coffee to the East Bay, is down only slightly but business at nearby shops and restaurants has decreased significantly.

"People can't walk up and down the street," he said.

Deputy Chief Dong said the cause of the fire hasn't yet been determined, in part because fire investigators haven't yet been able to enter the building.

"The collapse hazard has to be removed before we can make entry," he said.

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