Berkeley firefighters put out flames at an Elmwood laundromat Sunday night. Photo: Lisa Sibony

Berkeley firefighters ran across the street to an Elmwood laundromat where a dryer caught fire Sunday night, putting out the flames quickly, said the Berkeley Fire Department. No one was injured.

When either a garment or some lint started burning in a dryer around 8:10 p.m., the owner of Elmwood Laundry ran over to the fire station located conveniently just across Russell Street and “banged on the door,” said Bill Kehoe, the on-duty battalion chief.

The fire engine and paramedic from that station were able to “perform the initial attack on the fire,” and were soon backed up by additional engines, bringing a total of 18 personnel to the scene, Kehoe said.

“It was more smoke damage than anything,” Kehoe said. “We’re doing our best to get [the owner] back in service.”

He said he didn’t believe there was anyone other than the owner in the shop at the time. Laundromats are considered “essential” under the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order, so Elmwood Laundry has stayed open while most other stores in the College Avenue commercial district have been forced to temporarily close their doors.

@berkeleyside fire at elmwood laundromat being put out by BFD

— Sunny (@seeyouinphysics) April 13, 2020

BFD is running at minimum staffing these days — at its lowest, 35 people — said Kehoe, to lessen exposure to COVID-19. The department had also activated a special unit to respond to “highly suspicious” coronavirus calls.

But “Berkeley’s doing such a great job of not getting people sick,” said Kehoe, not yet necessitating the level of response the department feared could be warranted.

“We’ve got different plans in place and protocols if we have our personnel getting sick,” he said. BFD could still operate at its current level if a third of the department was out, according to Kehoe.

One firefighter did test positive for the virus in late March, which the city said was unsurprising given first-responders’ exposure to the community. Kehoe said that firefighter has now tested negative and is back at work.

The burning dryer startled neighbors in the Elmwood.

“Our neighborhood wash house is full of smoke!” one tweeted.

Kehoe said he thinks the damage from the incident will total around $1,000.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...