UPDATE, 4:50 p.m.: Police activity near the University Avenue and Second Street fire has ended and all roadways are open, according to a Berkeley Police Department Nixle alert.
UPDATE, 4:45 p.m.: Police and fire investigators continue to search through the site of the fire to determine its cause and whether it is suspicious. There is no evidence so far that the fire was caused by drug activities or a meth lab, as has been reported elsewhere, said Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats. The fire happened in a fenced-off storage area under the University Avenue overpass, and a couple of people were evacuated from the area by police before the fire was extinguished, she said. Coats confirmed there was a homeless encampment at the site, and that it is believed the fire started with an explosion. Evidence of drugs had not been found at the time of writing.
ORIGINAL STORY: A fire that broke out Wednesday afternoon at around 2:45 p.m., adjacent to the University Avenue Interstate-80 overpass in West Berkeley, is being investigated as possibly having been triggered by an explosion, authorities said.
The fire, which burned several recycling bins, was under control by 3:15 p.m., according to Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong, who said it took crews 18 minutes to do so.
Dong said police were on the scene helping firefighters investigate the blaze, as there were reports of an explosion before the fire erupted.
There were no reported injuries.
The eastbound I-80 off-ramp is closed to traffic while firefighters are on the scene, according to Dong.
The blast was reported about 2:45 p.m. near Second Street and Hearst Avenue.
Chief Dong said, before the fire was brought under control, it looked like it might impinge on local lumber company Truitt & White, which is located at 642 Hearst, between Second and Third streets.
Berkeleyside contributor Mary Flaherty, who took some of the photographs here, reported seeing “floor-to-ceiling” flames between the ground and overpass, as well as a police officer appearing to detain somebody on scene.
Many readers reported seeing billowing black smoke, from the hills, and other locations around town.
The Berkeley Police Department sent out a Nixle alert at 3:20 p.m, which read: “Berkeley PD: Police activity in the area of University Avenue and 2nd Street due to possible explosion and fire.” (Sign up to receive Nixle alerts.)
Berkeley Animal Care Services posted a tweet at 3:52 p.m. to reassure people that, though they are located close to the site of the fire, at 1 Bolivar Drive, they were not affected. “The fire/explosion at 2d & Hearst in Berkeley was nearby, but everyone at Berkeley Animal Care Services is fine!” they wrote.
The homeless encampment under the University overpass has grown ever since authorities fenced off the Gilman underpass from the homeless.
This story was updated as new information became available. Read more about past Berkeley fires.
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