Suspicious fires in Berkeley under investigation as arson

Some units have been red-tagged and residents say they are worried after two fires in a week: "The first time was bad enough. This was far worse."

Suspicious fires in Berkeley under investigation as arson
A suspicious fire on Oxford Street in Berkeley early Tuesday morning, July 25, 2023. Scanner Insider

Two suspicious fires on Oxford Street in North Berkeley over the past week have authorities on alert, with an arson investigation underway.

Community members say they are worried about what seems to be targeted activity as well as the limited information authorities have released.

The Berkeley Scanner has been asking local fire officials about the investigation for more than a week. Details remain scant.

The Berkeley Fire Department confirmed there was a fire in the 1100 block of Oxford Street at 5:35 a.m. July 19 at a three-story apartment building. Vegetation and the siding of the building caught fire, but there wasn't major damage.

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A second fire, causing significant damage, broke out at the same property shortly before 4 a.m. Tuesday.

"The first time was bad enough. This was far worse," one resident said, posting on NextDoor. "All residents made it out alive, but the fire did significant damage to the structure."

Community members say some apartments have been red-tagged and that they are now buying security cameras.

"The city needs to put someone on patrol between midnight and 6 a.m. until they catch the person," said a resident who asked to remain anonymous given the nature of the situation and the ongoing uncertainty. "We need cameras and floodlights on that property.

The resident said neighbors had woken up last week to find fire burning outside after hearing the sound of stomping footsteps on the stairs.

They alerted other tenants and helped put out the flames using a garden hose and extinguisher.

The culprit had "poured gasoline between the buildings and set the place on fire," the resident said.

Authorities reportedly found gas cans in the area.

The resident said homicide investigators are now working on the case and that a staffer from Councilwoman Sophie Hahn's office had been on the block this week along with the fire marshal.

On Tuesday, the Berkeley Fire Department said it was "collecting additional information and coordinating our response" between BFD and BPD.

It did not respond to questions about fire damage estimates or the situation overall, stating only that "We will respond with a statement soon."

Since then, 24 hours have passed and no additional details have been shared despite ongoing requests for information.

Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, who represents the district where the fires happened, said her office is keeping a close eye on the situation.

"These fires are dangerous and alarming and have resulted in several households being displaced, as well as damage to their homes. Luckily, due to the heroic actions of neighbors, no one has been seriously injured," she said. "My office is in close contact with affected residents and neighbors as well as Berkeley Police and Fire. Both departments are working actively to ensure the safety of the neighborhood and identify the source of the fires."

The Berkeley Scanner will update this story and provide ongoing coverage when more information is available.

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