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West Berkeley Fire Destroys Artisan Businesses

| April 14, 2014
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By Frances Dinkelspiel
Berkeleyside

The aftermath of a five-alarm fire in West Berkeley. (Pete Rosos/Berkeleyside)

The aftermath of a five-alarm fire in West Berkeley. (Pete Rosos/Berkeleyside)

The huge fire that ripped through a building on Second Street in West Berkeley on Saturday night not only affected well-known businesses like Import Tile and The Wooden Duck, but destroyed the livelihood of more than 20 artisans.

A destroyed business condominium at 1802 Second St. was home to a collective of small artisans and craft builders who shared a woodworking shop, a metal fabrication shop, computer-controlled machinery and large work areas, according to Joshua Goldberg, who put together the space in 2005. He is also the owner of Joshua Tree Furniture, which was completely destroyed by the five-alarm fire.

“I am sort of overwhelmed with grief right now,” Goldberg said Sunday morning. “It’s 20 people’s livelihoods.”

Firefighters continued to dose the building with water on Sunday morning, April 13. (Pete Rosos/Berkeleyside)

Firefighters continued to dose the building with water on Sunday morning, April 13. (Pete Rosos/Berkeleyside)

Goldberg was at his custom furniture shop with another member of the collective right before 8 p.m. Saturday when they noticed black smoke pouring into the work area. “We didn’t know if it was coming from our space. We were running frantically though our space to see if it was coming from there.”

Goldberg ran outside and saw that the smoke was coming out of the vents of the workshop of The Wooden Duck, another business in the complex. He called 911 and then ran inside to tell his co-worker to leave.

The Berkeley Fire Department responded at 7:54 p.m., according to Fire Chief Gil Dong. More than 70 firefighters from Berkeley, Alameda County and other cities battled the blaze, which was so large that it caused a backup on Interstate 80 as rubberneckers slowed to stare at the flames. Berkeley Fire had at least two ladder trucks operating to direct water down on the fire.

Firefighters were able to keep the flames from leaping from the burning building to the building holding the showroom of the The Wooden Duck. A fire wall was breached, but the showroom is essentially intact, said Dong. There is some water damage to the store, though, said Deputy Chief Avery Webb.

The smoke column on Saturday night as seen from Delaware Street. (Raph Levien/Berkeleyside)

The smoke column on Saturday night as seen from Delaware Street. (Raph Levien/Berkeleyside)

The fire was contained by 1 a.m., but crews remained on the scene throughout the night to water down hot spots. Firefighters are still there Sunday. There were no reported injuries.

Firefighting efforts were hampered when a high-voltage power line fell on a battalion chief’s car, said Dong. The fire department had to call in PG&E to turn power off to the block. Firefighters were able to pour water on the blaze during this time, but could not approach certain parts of the structure, he said.

The affected businesses were all part of a 40,000-square-foot building subdivided into three addresses: 1800, 1802 and 1810 Second Street, said Dong. The property at 1823 Eastshore Highway was also affected.

The spaces had been converted into business condominiums, according to Bill De Clarion, who purchased two of the condominiums for about $2 million around eight years ago. The Wooden Duck owns the other. They were all destroyed.

Fire investigators were on the scene Sunday to try to determine how the blaze started, said Dong. A Berkeley building inspector was also there because there is concern about the structural integrity of the building’s walls. The fire was sufficiently large that the Berkeley Fire Department requested that other agencies lend inspectors. One inspector from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was on the scene Sunday, too, said Webb.

De Clarion is also the owner of Import Tile  at 611 Hearst Ave. De Clarion said his company will be open for business Monday. The flames did not affect his showroom, but they did burn up about $1 million in inventory that was stored in the condos, he said

In total, De Clarion said the fire probably destroyed around $5 million of structures and inventory. Chief Dong said the damage was “in the several millions of dollars.”

As the fire raged Saturday night, a number of members of the artisan collective stood on Second Street and conferred with a chaplain from the Fire Department.

“We were all there watching our lives go up,” said Goldberg.

He said his business was insured, but he is not sure of the other businesses in the collective.

The members of the collective include numerous woodworking and furniture makers including Gus Cancro’s Blocka Wood, Corey Nesbitt’s metal shop The Hearth Forge, Brian Lincke’s boat repair and restoration business, Jonathan Perkins’ custom furniture business, and Alec Gordon’s woodworking company Overgrown Woodworks. Other companies include Bosavi, which makes innovative outdoor lighting products, and Naomi Design Advocates.

Thriving Lifestyles is also located in the complex.

De Clarion and his wife, Evelyn Larson, had nothing but praise Sunday for Berkeley fire and police officials. They said they were also heartened by the outpouring of support from customers of Import Tile, members of St. Mark’s Church and friends.

“It’s amazing, it’s wonderful,” said De Clarion.

“Import Tile will be open. We will be handling business as usual,” said Larson. “We want our customers to know we aren’t gone.”

The owner of The Wooden Duck posted a status report in the comments on Berkeleyside’s story on the fire Saturday night. Eric Gellerman said that the showroom was spared, but Wooden Duck’s rear warehouse was engulfed.

KQED News Associate Berkeleyside is an independently owned news website based in Berkeley, Calif. Click here if you would you like to receive the latest Berkeley news in your inbox once a day for free with Berkeleyside’s Daily Briefing email.

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