Smoke prompts shelter order in Alameda

March 29, 2009 6:46:20 PM PDT
A huge fire destroyed an abandoned military hospital in Alameda Sunday morning.

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Alameda County issued a precautionary shelter-in-place order Sunday night because of thick smoke generated by a fire burning in an abandoned military hospital. The fire was first reported around 3:00 a.m. Sunday and officials say the cause of the fire is suspicious.

Firefighters were called to the building four different times overnight Saturday in a three-hour period. Crews would respond to a call, extinguish a fire, leave, then get called back again just to find that a different area of the building was on fire.

The fourth time crews responded they found the second floor of the building fully engulfed in flames.

Firefighters say the building had previously been declared unsafe and was under the watch of a security. Although, they admit that the guard can only be in one place at one time.

Firefighters Sunday were mostly concerned with the thick smoke emanating from the fire. They asked residents living within a mile of the fire, in the Marina Square shopping area, to stay inside and shelter in place.

The order included two assisted living facilities.

"At this point we're burning heavy timber. As you can see it's a wood-framed structure. And, it's a very large structure so there's a lot of wood products burning. So, you can imagine that we have a lot of smoke and unburned fuels that are floating through the air. Again, it's the typical smoke products we're concerned about," explained Alameda Fire Division Chief Ricci Zombek.

Air quality experts were on scene Sunday monitoring the air. They said there probably was asbestos in the building but not to be too worried as asbestos does not burn.

The fire is burning in the middle of the building making it difficult for fire crews to get to the heart of the fire. Officials expected crews to be on scene for several more hours Sunday evening and brought in heavy equipment from San Jose, including an excavator, to help them break down walls and access the fire.

The building has actually caught fire, or been set on fire before. Officials are not sure because the cause was never officially determined. Once again, investigators do not know why the building caught fire.

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