Massive 6-alarm fire destroys several townhomes in Alameda County

ByLeslie Brinkley and Cornell Barnard via KGO logo
Thursday, July 7, 2016
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A massive 6-alarm fire tore through an apartment complex under construction on Wednesday morning, spreading to townhomes next door and forcing dozens to evacuate. There were no reports of injuries.

EMERYVILLE, Calif. (KGO) -- A massive 6-alarm fire tore through an apartment complex under construction on Wednesday morning, spreading to townhomes next door and forcing dozens to evacuate.

The fire broke out before 3 a.m. at San Pablo Avenue and Adeline Street, across the street from Home Depot and right off I-580, which was affected by the blaze. It was on the Oakland border.

PHOTOS: 6-alarm fire burns in Emeryville near Oakland border

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The 6-alarm fire burning in Emeryville, Calif. spreads to nearby townhomes on Wednesday, July 6, 2016. (KGO-TV)

It took five hours for crews to control the blaze, but everyone is grateful that a fire this big didn't kill or hurt anyone.

Melvin Burns took cellphone video of the fire but realized he needed to get out of there. "At one point, it got so hot I had to evacuate because the windows were starting to crack and break, it was that close," he said.

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Even those a few blocks away were scared.

"I moved my car because the wind is blowing so I feel like the fire is coming right here and it is burning my face," witness Shamsher Butt said.

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A security guard and property manager frantically woke up and evacuated the residents in the 100-unit apartment building on Adeline Street, across from the fire.

"We had to bring everything, even everybody on the top floor. Everyone - babies, animals - we had to rescue them. I had a tussle with a big ole cat, he scratched the crap out of me," security guard James Johnson said.

Firefighters ready to attack the fire found themselves dodging part of the construction site - a crane was swinging wildly from the heat.

"They were worried about it falling, so their operations they had to post or position in different locations to avoid that," Alameda County Fire Dept.'s Dep. Chief Jim Call said.

"The crane was leaning and everybody was worried the crane was going to fall on the lines and there were going to be live wires," said Paula Blackwell, evacuee.

Crews slowly dismantled it using a blowtorch to separate the steel, lowering pieces to the ground.

The fire spread to the townhomes next door - 10 of them destroyed from fire, water and smoke.

"We looked out the window and saw the flames coming from the other side of the building. That's when we grabbed our daughters and we ran out as quickly as we could," said Carlos Montes, evacuee.

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Carrie Deakin showed off what was left of her townhouse. The roof is gone. "It was awful. I was shaking so bad, I had no time to think, to grab my ID, to grab my wallet," Deakin said.

Firefighters had already evacuated the block, so the residents were safe.

The auto repair shop next door was also destroyed, along with the dozen or so cars in the lot.

Officials say they do not know the cause of the fire. Firefighters have called in federal investigators from the ATF to help them figure out what happened. Some residents believe the fire was caused by fireworks, but that has not been confirmed by officials. They say their teams will be out looking for crews all day.

"That has not been confirmed of denied. Fire investigators are speaking with residents," said Aisha Knowles with the Alameda County Fire Department.

As for Deakin, she had no renters insurance.

"Co-workers have raised money for me to help me get back on my feet," Deakin said.

The Red Cross is helping her and others find temporary housing.