The smoke from the West Berkeley warehouse fire as seen from Delaware Street. Photo: Raph Levien
The smoke from the West Berkeley warehouse fire as seen from Delaware Street. Photo: Raph Levien

The fire that erupted in a West Berkeley warehouse on Saturday, seriously damaging or destroying numerous businesses, started accidentally, according to fire officials.

“There didn’t seem to be any indication this was a malicious fire,” said Berkeley Fire Department Deputy Chief Avery Webb. “The investigation is ongoing but they have ruled out a malicious origin.”

After examining the scene for two days and interviewing witnesses, officials have determined that the fire started at 1800 Second St. in the space rented by The Wooden Duck furniture store and used as a storage area, said Webb. Investigators are trying to determine if electrical equipment, or products used to finish wood furniture, started the blaze, he said. It may be many more days, or weeks, before officials determine the cause.

The fire broke out at 7:54 p.m. April 12 at 1800, 1802 and 1810 Second St., a building owned by Bill de Carion, who also owns the nearby Import Tile store on Hearst Avenue. It quickly spread to five alarms. The Berkeley Fire Department called in mutual aid to battle the flames, which flared up into the sky and were visible from Interstate 80, and from around the bay. Smoke drifted throughout West Berkeley. The fire was contained by 10:30 p.m., and under control by 1 a.m. Sunday.

The Wooden Duck did not have insurance

The Wooden Duck lost a warehouse it rented behind its showroom on Eastshore Highway. That structure was filled with finished furniture and some reclaimed wood from the old Memorial Stadium at UC Berkeley (most of that was spared, however, as it was stored off-site). The store’s owner, Eric Gellerman, said the contents of the warehouse were not insured. Asked to evaluate the the loss, he said: “We haven’t yet calculated the loss as we’re just trying to deal with emailing/calling the customers that were affected, but I’d imagine it’s about $500,000.” The store’s showroom on Eastshore Highway is largely intact, although it suffered a bit of water and smoke damage. It reopened for business on Monday.

Joshua Tree Furniture at 1802 Second St. was completely destroyed. The building also housed a collaborative of about 20 artisans and craftsmen. They all lost everything. Another business, Thriving Lifestyles, was also damaged.

Joshua Goldberg, the owner of Joshua Tree Furniture, said he was insured, but that some of the artisans in the collective were not. In the past few days there has been an outpouring of support for the craftsmen and Goldberg hopes to hold a fundraiser to help the group find a new space and buy equipment.

The remains of the Import Tile warehouse that burned on April 12. Photo: Evelyn Larsen
The remains of the Import Tile warehouse that burned on April 12. Photo: Evelyn Larsen

Import Tile also lost about $1 million worth of tile and stone work that was stored in the building, said de Carion. Import Tile was insured. The stock should be replenished soon, as the company has a number of containers of stone and tile arriving today, April 16, at the Port of Oakland, said Evelyn Larsen, who is married to de Carion. She said the community support has been overwhelming.

“We have continued to receive a flood of kindness and sympathy,” Larsen wrote in an email.  “Customers and friends have come by Import Tile so much that it has made it hard to get work done! Our Wells Fargo bankers brought over a bag of treats from Peet’s; and friends from our community have come in to shop and place orders to demonstrate their support for the store in this time of need.”

“Import Tile has been in this community for 37 years,” said de Carion, “and we will be here for many more. We are both truly grateful for all the help and concern that have come our way. This is what it means to be part of a community, and it is a true blessing.”

The building has been red-tagged by Berkeley, which means no one can enter, said Webb. The onsite investigation is over and the building has been turned back over to the owner.

Webb did not have a damage estimate from the fire but said it was in the millions. De Carion said Sunday he thought it would reach at least $5 million.

Editor’s note: The story was updated as new information came in.

After a West Berkeley blaze, praise for the firefighters (04.14.14)
West Berkeley fire causes $5 million in damage, destroys 20 artisan businesses (04.13.14)
Berkeley businesses damaged in 5-alarm warehouse fire (04.12.14)
Old Cal Memorial Stadium for sale, one bleacher at a time (06.27.12)

Get the latest Berkeley news in your inbox with Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing. And make sure to bookmark Berkeleyside’s pages on Facebook and Twitter. You don’t need an account on those sites to view important information.

Avatar photo

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...