Several tenants, including UC Berekley graduate Adam Bolt, who was on the third floor of the apartment when it went up in flames, claim they heard no alarms as the blaze consumed the building on Dwight Way.
"The main fire alarm for the building was not functioning at all. We've heard that fire alarm before. We know what it sounds like. It was not going off. I came down to the first story and tried to pull the emergency fire alarm. I did, nothing happened at all," said Bolt.
Nine residents, in all, made it out of six units safely. Around 40 more people were evacuated from the surrounding apartment buildings. The fire took more than four hours to extinguish with firefighters being forced to evacuate themselves due to concerns about collapse.
According to one Berkeley fire official, at least some of the smoke detectors were working. But he said fire officials have received reports from individuals who said they did not hear any alarms.
"During the firefight, I personally heard some smoke alarms sounding from the building," said Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong. He added: "We're not able to confirm the absence or presence of smoke alarms in each of the sleeping rooms because obviously the building has been significantly damaged and we're not able to get in to retrieve any smoke alarms."
The building and at least one next to it are owned by notorious and wealthy Berkeley landlord Lakireddy Bali Reddy. In 2001, he pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of immigration fraud, tax fraud, and two counts of transporting minors into the country for illegal sex. The charges came to light after a teenage girl died of carbon monoxide poisoning in one of Reddy's Berkeley apartments.
Reddy showed up at the scene Friday morning but refused to comment about whether his building had working alarms. A tenant who lives in the building next door, which is also owned by Reddy, said he has had no problem with the landlord.
"My building is fine, whenever there's a problem. We shattered the window and he fixed it the next day," said David Safarian. Asked whether his smoke alarms worked, he replied, "They definitely work."
Berkeley fire officials said Reddy has been cooperative in the wake of the fire and moved quickly in getting the issues around the building resolved.
On Friday, construction crews removed and shored up parts of the gutted structure in danger of collapsing. The yellow tags on some of the surrounding buildings were also taken off and the 40 or so displaced tenants were free to return to their homes.
Displaced residents can call the Red Cross Bay Area at 510-595-444.