Taqueria Monte Cristo was closed briefly Wednesday by a fire on the roof. Photo: Chris Draper
Taqueria Monte Cristo was closed briefly by a fire on the roof. Photo: Chris Draper

A popular Mexican restaurant on University Avenue was closed briefly by a small fire Wednesday afternoon, but the business is set to re-open today around lunchtime.

The Berkeley Fire Department initially was dispatched for a report of a kitchen fire at Taqueria Monte Cristo just after 4:30 p.m., said Avery Webb, Berkeley’s deputy fire chief.

Four engines, a ladder truck, an ambulance and a battalion chief were dispatched to the scene, at 1446 University (between Sacramento and Acton streets).

Webb said responding firefighters found no fire in the kitchen, but found smoke coming from the roof, where contractors had been using a torch to apply building materials.

Upon investigation, firefighters learned that filters in the ventilation system had caught on fire while the roofers worked. They then used dry chemical extinguishers to put out the flames, and set the filters aside.

“But it started smoldering again,” said Webb. “The ventilation system drew smoke and dry chemicals into the restaurant.”

People inside the restaurant noticed smoke wafting in through the vents, but the structure itself never caught on fire, he said.

Firefighters took a segment of the ventilation system apart to confirm nothing was burning inside.

The business had to close for the day because some of the dry chemical agent from the extinguisher got inside the building. Webb said the Alameda County health department would need to assess the building Thursday to ensure it had been “cleaned up adequately to re-open.”

According to a Monte Cristo employee who answered the phone Thursday, the business got the green light to re-open. She said the restaurant would be open around noon today, March 19, to serve lunch.

Traffic was partially blocked on University during the incident, which was declared under control by about 5 p.m.

One reader told Berkeleyside on Twitter that eastbound University was “totally shut down” between Acton and Sacramento, and another said vehicles were rerouted from University to Addison.

Police officers helping with traffic control were released from the scene just before 5:40 p.m., said Webb.

Read more about fires in Berkeley in past Berkeleyside coverage. 

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...