Fire at 1015 University Ave., Aug. 15, 2021. Credit: Staci Prado/BeFree Photography

A fire tore through a Berkeley tattoo shop early Sunday morning, burning hot enough to melt parking meters on the sidewalk and leaving 16 people without homes, authorities report.

The fire, at 1015 University Ave. (at 10th Street), is estimated to have caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the two-story building, officials said. As of Sunday, the cause of the fire was unknown, as was a more precise damage estimate, but more information was expected to be available in the coming days following a review by the Berkeley fire marshal.

Berkeley police helped firefighters evacuate all 16 building residents, and two cats, as BFD fought the blaze, which took about two hours to bring under control. One resident was taken to the hospital for an asthma attack related to the fire, but no other injuries were reported. The man who was taken to the hospital is expected to make a full recovery, said Battalion Chief Brian Harryman of the Berkeley Fire Department.

Authorities responded to 1015 University, which houses Philthy Clean Tattoo and several other businesses on the ground floor, just after 2:45 a.m., four minutes after the initial dispatch.

“When we got there, the ground floor was fully involved. There was fire blowing out of every window on the University side,” Harryman told Berkeleyside. “It had been going for awhile.”

The tattoo shop on the first floor was “pretty much destroyed,” Harryman said. The fire did not spread to other businesses on the ground floor, he added, though they may have suffered smoke damage.

Philthy Clean Tattoo has operated on the block for nearly a decade and has a loyal following, according to its Yelp reviews. The owner also has tattoo shops in Fairfield and Woodland. (Berkeleyside has attempted to reach him but was unsuccessful as of publication time.)

There was “pretty extensive smoke damage” and some amount of fire damage to apartments in the two-story building, which also has a large attic space. But most of the fire damage was contained within the tattoo shop, BFD said.

BFD called the American Red Cross to help find shelter for the displaced residents. Those who needed assistance were placed in local hotels. Harryman said the residents would not be able to move back into the building until repairs are done. The timeline will depend on the owner, he said.

Harryman also noted that a sign on the building listed the property as for sale: “They’re going to have to do a lot. Nobody’s going to buy it as is.”

According to LoopNet, a real estate website, 1015 University has 11 apartments and four ground-floor commercial units. The property is listed for sale at nearly $4 million. According to the listing, the building was “fully occupied” with “up-to-date rent collections” prior to the fire.

Fire destroyed the Philthy Clean Tattoo shop at 1015 University Ave., Aug. 15, 2021. Credit: Susan Black

Local resident and photographer Staci Prado went to the scene of the fire early Sunday morning to see what was going on. When she arrived on the block, she found the tenants already outside speaking with the Red Cross. They were wrapped in blankets that had been provided by volunteers, she said.

Prado spoke to a 70-year-old tenant at the scene. He had woken early that morning to someone pounding on his door, he told her.

“When he opened his eyes, he saw red flashing lights coming from outside and heard people yelling about a fire,” the man told her. “His small upstairs apartment quickly filled with smoke when he opened his door and was quickly led downstairs by a firefighter.”

Harryman said firefighters had been concerned about the fire spreading from the tattoo shop up through the rest of the building because the conflagration was already “so developed” when they arrived.

“One of our biggest fears is that the fire may be creeping and skunking around inside the walls and behind the walls where you can’t see it,” Harryman said. “We had to pull a lot of ceiling. We had to pull a lot of the wall structure down to make sure that there wasn’t fire in the void spaces. That’s really dangerous.”

BFD also used thermal imaging cameras to ensure the fire was completely out.

The building at 1015 University Ave. is boarded up after an early-morning fire, Aug. 15, 2021. Credit: James Reagan

University Avenue was closed for several hours in both directions during the single-alarm response by four fire engines, a ladder truck, an ambulance and a battalion chief.

Harryman noted that it had been an “incredibly busy weekend” for Berkeley firefighters, with calls running the gamut from strokes and heart attacks to car crashes, a dog attack, rescues and a shooting.

Harryman said that, when he was hired by BFD 23 years ago, the department handled nearly 9,000 calls each year. Now, it’s closer to 16,000.

He also said that the city’s population was up by perhaps 6,000-10,000 this weekend because UC Berkeley students, and family members who are helping them get settled, are returning.

“The city just feels really crowded right now,” he said.

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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...