A reader saw dead fish in Codornices after firefighters used foam to put out a garbage truck fire Wednesday. Photo: Citizen reporter
A reader saw dead fish in Codornices after firefighters used foam to put out a garbage truck fire Wednesday. Photo: Citizen reporter

Update, April 4, 4:50 p.m. One community member surveyed the area from Eighth Street to San Pablo Avenue “and photographed around 60+ dead fish,” he wrote Thursday, “including at least one, maybe two sculpin. The crawfish are still alive. Where there was a lot of undergrowth blocking the creek is where the foam seemed to collect.”

“Sadly it looks as though the fish population from the entry point of the spill has been devastated,” he told volunteer environmental group Friends of Five Creeks by email. A number of community members had become concerned about the fish after carcasses were reported following the use of foam to extinguish a garbage truck fire on Rose Street on Wednesday.

Janna Rinderneck, an environmental program manager with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told Berkeleyside on Thursday afternoon that the agency had collected samples in Berkeley. The samples would be received at the agency’s fish and wildlife laboratory Friday.

At that point, Rinderneck said, it would be up to the warden and field biologists to determine what sort of analysis to pursue, if any. She said it was still too soon to say exactly what might have killed the fish in Codornices Creek.

“There’s just such a mix of contamination and pollutants coming off a garbage truck fire that could have caused toxicity to those fish,” she said.

"At the creek by Fielding Field around 6p today. Lots of dead fish." Photo: Chris Rauh
“At the creek by Fielding Field” wrote Chris Rauh, describing the scene on the Albany-Berkeley border on Wednesday at 6 p.m. “Lots of dead fish,” he wrote.

Update, April 4, 2:20 p.m. Two officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are in Berkeley on Thursday afternoon investigating the impacts of firefighting foam runoff in Codornices Creek — from a garbage truck fire Wednesday — and collecting evidence at the scene, including “dead fish if they find them,” the agency tells Berkeleyside.

According to an online report from Cal OES, the Office of Emergency Services, UC Berkeley made a Hazardous Materials Spill Report to Cal OES on Wednesday at about 5:40 p.m., describing a chemical release in Codornices Creek: “Caller stated that there are dead fish in the creek due to the detergent. City Fire Dept. is on scene trying to mediate the spill.”

The clean-up scene on Rose Street on Wednesday. Photo: Justin Lee
The clean-up scene on Rose Street on Wednesday. Photo: Justin Lee

According to an update nearly two hours later, also posted on the Cal OES website, the spill was described as 20 gallons of foam and 6,000 gallons of water due to the earlier garbage truck fire (described below in the original story). The Fire Department had “deployed booms near 5th Street & Harrison” and was ultimately able to stop the chemical release, according to the report. (Note: A later OES report said one gallon had spilled. Berkeleyside has asked the Berkeley Fire Department for clarification.)

Cal OES spokesman Robb Mayberry said a “boom” is an absorbent material that’s used to gather chemicals and contain them after a spill. Mayberry told Berkeleyside on Thursday that, from what he could see, all the appropriate agencies had been notified. According to the Cal OES website, those agencies included Berkeley Emergency & Toxics Management and Alameda County Environmental Health. Each agency has its own role in the response, Mayberry said, and what OES does it collect the relevant information in one place.

Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, in whose district the spill originated, said Thursday that she is in conversation with the city manager about the incident and is “very concerned.”

Firefighters used foam to put out a garbage truck fire in Berkeley on Wednesday. Photo: Kellianne

Original story, April 3, 8:50 p.m. A garbage truck caught fire in North Berkeley on Wednesday morning, resulting in massive amounts of foam in the streets, according to reports from community members and the Berkeley Fire Department.

One community member told Berkeleyside the foam made its way into Codornices Creek and appears to have caused a number of steelhead trout to die.

Berkeley Fire Battalion Chief Brian Harryman said Engine 2 responded to the 1600 block of Rose Street — between California Street and McGee Avenue — for the report of the fire at 9:55 a.m. When firefighters got on scene four minutes later, they found a city of Berkeley garbage truck on fire.

Harryman said an unknown material inside the garbage chute was burning and was “extremely difficult to put out.” It appeared something inside the compactor caught fire, he said, causing everything else inside the truck to burn. The fire then spread to the truck itself.

Firefighters were forced to use water and foam to extinguish the blaze, he said. The truck had to empty its load into the street “to achieve complete extinguishment,” Harryman said.

“These garbage fires are always super messy,” he said. Sometimes fires at the transfer station can burn for hours, he added, “once it gets in that trash — burning and melting everything together.”

Engine 2 ultimately was able to put out the fire, which it declared under control at 11:39 a.m. Firefighters called Public Works to clean up the garbage in the street. Harryman said he did not have an estimate yet as far as the extent of damage to the truck.

The extensive foam in the street became a topic of conversation for community members on private social network NextDoor.

A reader then alerted Berkeleyside on Wednesday night about a significant number of dead fish in Codornices Creek on the Berkeley-Albany border.

He identified the fish as endangered steelhead trout and shared several photographs.

The reader said the fish appeared to have died due to foam in the storm drain. He said he saw the carcasses between San Pablo Avenue and the railroad tracks. (The reader had not heard about the earlier fire when he sent in the tip.)

Another reader later told Berkeleyside he saw dead fish near Fielding Field on the Albany border.

Harryman told Berkeleyside the “Class A” foam firefighters use to put out fires can, unfortunately, “leach down into the creek.” He said BFD did report the incident to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Office of Emergency Services, as required by law.

Berkeleyside has asked Fish and Wildlife for comment and will update this story if it is provided.

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...