Fires at 2 Oakland construction sites under investigation

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Federal agents from the ATF are joining the investigation of a suspicious fire which destroyed roughly half of a townhouse development under construction in downtown Oakland on West Grand Ave.

About 90 firefighters fought the inferno shortly after it began about 2 a.m. Tuesday. The fire quickly swept through the 126 unit development called Icehouse, approximately 55 units were destroyed.

Frank Kapley-Alfano showed an ABC 7 News crew what he captured from his home over night.

"It was the hugest fire I have ever seen in my life and there were embers and fire raining down," Kapley-Alfano said. "We had our hoses on and we were just praying that the embers wouldn't catch our houses on fire."

Kapley-Alfano didn't lose his home, but Jerry Goree did.

"All I could see was my truck burned down, broke my heart," Goree said. "I was using it to sleep in because I'm homeless."

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf stopped short of calling it a deliberate act.

"We do not know if this fire was caused by an arsonist but we do know arsonists have been trying to burn down housing projects in Oakland," Schaaf said.

Since 2012, there have been five suspicious fires targeting housing projects under construction in Oakland.

The builder of the IceHouse project says he knew about recent fires and took no chances.

"We have security cameras on site and a security guard on site, still this fire started," said Phil Kerr from City Ventures Homebuilding.

Footage from the construction site's surveillance cameras is being reviewed by authorities.

Fire officials say about the same time Tuesday morning, there was an attempted arson at a residential project also under construction at Peralta and 32nd. Luckily there was no damage.

"We are on heightened alert trying to make sure we do our due diligence, trying to find out if these two incidents are related," said Oakland Fire Chief Darin White.

Embers from the blaze drifted several blocks away to Isabella Street where several homes caught fire but were quickly put out causing only minor damage.

"People need to stop setting fires and burning housing projects down," said neighbor Wanda Moss.

Ice House consisted of 126 town homes. More than 52 units were already sold at prices starting at $600,000.

Phil Kerr, CEO of Homebuilding City Ventures told ABC 7 News the company would be working individually with each family that purchased an impacted unit. Kerr said work will begin on the portion of the building not impacted by the fire on Monday.

Schaaf announced a tip line has been opened at 510-238-4031.

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