A large fire tore through a home on Shasta Road in the Berkeley Hills on Monday evening and sent two people to the hospital with burn injuries, authorities report.
Two firefighters sustained minor burns but did not require hospital transport, the Berkeley Fire Department said shortly before 11 p.m.
Reports of the blaze, on Shasta Road near Sterling Avenue, began coming in at 6:50 p.m. Monday.
There were initial reports that an elderly woman was trapped inside the house, which caused BFD to call for a second-alarm response, bringing practically all of the city's fire resources to the scene, said BFD Battalion Chief Brian Harryman.
Berkeley firefighters responding from the Cedar Street station in West Berkeley could see the flames from 3 miles away as they headed up the hill to Shasta Road, BFD said.
As it turned out, the home's two occupants, a woman in her 60s and her adult son, were already outside when firefighters arrived. They were taken to the hospital for burns and smoke inhalation injuries.
The fire department initially said all injuries were minor, but a relative later contacted The Berkeley Scanner to say the woman had sustained second-degree burns that required surgery.
The son sustained minor injuries, according to BFD.
Arriving crews found heavy fire activity to the rear of the home, a split-level property in the Berkeley Hills.
There was heavy fire blowing out from the back of the home and down the slope on Shasta, Harryman said. BFD set up multiple hose lines to tackle the blaze.
The Berkeley Fire Department evacuated adjacent homes due to concerns about radiant heat damage because the fire was so big and so hot, he said.
Some of the firefighters were assigned to protect those homes; none of the properties were ultimately damaged by fire, BFD said.
Flames did burn through high-voltage PG&E power lines on the block, which dropped into the street and were sparking.
"We have power lines down around our fire engine — right in front of the fire," one firefighter reported just before 7:10 p.m. while asking for PG&E to be notified.
(The Berkeley Scanner monitored emergency radio traffic during the response.)
The power lines came down right in front of the fire engine BFD had been using to pump water, Harryman said.
Firefighters had to abandon that vehicle and connect the fire hydrant to a different engine so they could continue working to extinguish the blaze.
Just after 7:20 p.m., the fire department reported "some hotspots" but said the situation was "looking much better": "We’re getting good knock-down from the outside," one firefighter reported over the radio.
As of about 7:30 p.m., flames were still coming out of the attic, however.
PG&E arrived on the block at about 7:45 p.m. to shut down power to the fallen lines.
The Berkeley Fire Department said the incident was nearly under control by about 8 p.m. and was fully under control just after 8:35 p.m.
Firefighters had to pull out portions of the home's walls and ceiling to ensure the flames were fully out. They also used thermal imaging cameras to confirm their findings.
The neighborhood's narrow streets in the Berkeley Hills left little room for first responders to maneuver Monday night.
"It is really cramped," one firefighter advised a colleague over the radio. "We could barely get any rigs through.… We're pretty much bumper to bumper on both sides of the structure."
With vehicles parked on either side of the block throughout the neighborhood, it can be like "threading a needle," Harryman said, to get up the hill driving fire engines and trucks.
"That whole district is really difficult to navigate," he said. "It's super congested. It's just really, really tight."
Police closed intersections in the area to vehicular and pedestrian traffic during the fire response.
Harryman said there was no indication as of Monday night how the fire might have started. He said investigators would likely be at the scene all night in an effort to determine what had happened.
The house, he said, was "pretty much a total loss."
"It was a pretty significant event," Harryman said. "We normally don’t have working structure fires that go to multiple alarms."
The Scanner updated this story as more information became available. On Jan. 19, The Scanner corrected the story to reflect the degree of injuries the woman sustained in the fire, which was more serious than BFD initially believed.