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FISC fire under investigation

Submitted by on 1, March 30, 2009 – 9:17 am6 Comments


Photo by Ben Peoples

Photo by Ben Peoples

Police and fire officials are investigating the fire that destroyed an abandoned administrative building on former Naval lands behind the College of Alameda.

Alameda Fire Captain Ken Rankin said the fire is mostly out but is still smoldering in some spots of the building, which he said has not been used in at least 15 years.

“I was out there at 7:30 this morning, and you could see little wisps of smoke here and there,” Rankin said.

Alameda Fire Division Chief Rick Zombeck said a fire crew would remain on hand today to direct continued excavation efforts and to put out any fires smoldering in debris that is being removed from the building.

Rankin said police and fire officials are “pretty certain” that the fire was intentionally set. The dilapidated, graffiti-strewn building, which is about the size of a city block, had no working utilities.

Rankin said that although the building was fenced off, it had been the site of at least a half-dozen fires that he could remember over the seven or eight years he has served in the department’s fire prevention unit. He said the building was frequented by youths.

Deputy City Manager Lisa Goldman said the city is getting cost estimates to demolish the remains of the cross-shaped, wood frame building, which was once used to house medical records and as a site where some minor dental work was performed and is now a hazard.

The building is on property behind the College of Alameda that had once served as the Fleet Industrial Supply Center Annex to a similar center across the estuary in Oakland. It is set to one day become home to the Alameda Landing development.

The building that burned was reportedly slated for demolition as part of that development. But the development plans have stalled, having fallen victim to a failing economy.

Thick smoke was visible for miles from the fire for at least 16 hours after it started, at 2:12 a.m. Sunday. Fire crews took a defensive stance in fighting the fire, spraying it with aerial hoses and bringing in excavators to burrow to the fire, which was at the center of the building and, they said, difficult to reach and extinguish.

The wind carried the fire’s ashes as far as the Gold Coast, according to folks I talked with there. Zombeck said the department got reports of ashes falling all over the Island.

The fire reached two alarms and at one point drew 45 firefighters, including 24 from Alameda and others from Oakland and the Alameda County Fire Department.

The fire followed three earlier fires that were set and extinguished over a three-hour period Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Zombeck said a shelter-in-place advisory had been set early Sunday afternoon and was lifted at 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

If you’re interested in checking out some additional pre-fire photos, by the way, local photog Ben Peoples has some right here.


  • Richard Hausman says:

    The ash carried at least as far as Pearl & Otis. Our cars were littered with fine ash Sunday morning.

  • Mike G says:

    The debris was everywhere in my yard and my neighbor tested some of hers and it was positive for asbestos…… I have called emailed etc.. to everycity dept and nobody will say what it is or how to properly clean it up

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for commenting. The fire chief gave a report on the fire to the council Tuesday night, and what he said was that asbestos didn't get in the air. But he also said they didn't test the ashes that fell into people's yards. I'll have a full report on what he said Thursday.

  • Liz Williams says:

    We've started a blog focused on getting the city to do a proper cleanup of the asbestos-containing debris from the fire. Right now we're focusing on sending the city officials certified, signature-required letters demanding that they clean up the island. According the the state DA's office, unless they sign for a letter of complaint, they are not legally obligated to respond to it.

    The county DA's office is seeking narrative's of what you saw and experienced as a result of the fire, as well as pictures. We're hoping you'll come and post your narrative on the blog. I think the sum of our experiences will tell a powerful story. The debris Mike G refers to was 10% asbestos. There is no legal or safe limit for asbestos. Fire is one of the best ways to get it airborne and spread it around.

    This has every indication of being one of those cascading series of bad decisions. Come the the website. Tell us what you know. Take action. thanks. http://www.fireinalameda.wordpress.com

  • Liz Williams says:

    Since this didn’t make this thread, there was asbestos tape all around the site of the fire until a company that is skilled in asbestos removal was hired. They monitored all around the site as they performed a 1.6 million dollar asbestos clean-up. Check out my website: your health was put at risk for the 19 hours of the burn and for weeks afterward. Any asbestos-related disease will take a good 10 years to show up, however. You were also exposed to high levels of toxic fumes from burning fuel. The claims won’t be rolling in for quite some time, but with that level of exposure, I think they will.

  • Liz Williams says:

    Also: A neighbor had the debris in her yard tested and it was positive for asbestos.

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