PHOTOS: Massive fire burns near Oakland's Lake Merritt
Firefighters are still monitoring hot spots at a massive fire that reached 4 alarms at an apartment building at Acton Place on Lester Avenue near Lake Merritt in Oakland.
The previous tenants say the new owners started construction while others still lived in the original building on the property. They say digging exposed gas lines and damaged the home's foundation. Construction worker even allegedly used electricity that they were charged for.
One former tenant, Hillary Jacobs, says she and others are suing the property owner. Their attorney calls this fire "suspicious" considering the current litigation.
"I could feel the heat... it was very intense," said April Hudson. She lives in a unit next to the apartment complex under construction. "They fought for years trying to stop this. I remember my mother signed petitions and all that trying to stop them from making this massive apartment building," she said.
The ferocious fire in Oakland's Lake Merritt neighborhood was so bright and big that residents down the street didn't even know if they were safe.
"I heard some loud explosions and then I looked out on the street and I could see every house was illuminated from the flames," said neighbor Mike Eckstein.
"When we opened the door and it was like that hot, and granted we are two buildings over," said Oakland resident Tom Kennedy. "I thought it was our building on fire, that's how hot and close it was."
The building owner's son, Peter Magganas, said they were about six months away from having 41 rental units fully completed.
"It's a big waste and its very sad," Magganas said.
Two people were living in the garage, working security for the building, but the City of Oakland confirmed to ABC7 News that no occupancy permit has been issued for the property.
"It was scary. I go outside running," said Maria Mendez, who was woken up by the fire.
She said a pipe from the building pierced the windshield of her car. No one was in the car, but it was parked in the garage where the couple was staying. They are okay, but shaken by the experience.
The fire started at 5:00 a.m. while most residents were asleep. Firefighters say the big concern for them was keeping the fire from spreading through this densely packed neighborhood.
"There was a little bit of a wind this morning. Embers were flying, so our concern was of the other neighborhood houses catching on fire because of embers," said Battalion Chief Lisa Baker,
A section on the back of the building and collapsed scaffolding toppled over, landing on the home of an elderly woman. She is okay, but her home has so much damage she can't stay there.
Firefighters estimate that 150 to 200 people were evacuated during the fire.
"I ran to the end of my patio and I could just see the flames and they were real hot," Said one neighbor. "So I said it was really time for me to get out. So I left."
Firefighters managed to keep the fire from spreading to other homes, much to the relief of residents who at times had their doubts.
"Couple moments when you thought, it was like, the whole block was gonna go."
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.