A woman living at the safe parking site next to the West Berkeley Grayson shelter lost her belongings in a blaze last week that consumed her RV and damaged vehicles in the surrounding area.
The woman, who is now living in her SUV at the SPARK parking lot, was uninjured, according to other residents and the Dorothy Day House, which operates the homeless shelter adjacent to it. She couldn’t be reached for comment.
The fire happened on the evening of Nov. 24, when residents in the area woke to flames and yelling. The Berkeley Fire Department spokesperson requested extra time to respond to Berkeleyside’s request for more details, such as what caused the fire. Two other vehicles were damaged by the blaze.
Amber Whitson, who lives across the lot from the burned RV, saw the flames when they broke out that evening. She said multiple residents rushed toward a hose in one corner of the lot and attacked the fire before fire officials arrived. An attendant from the Dorothy Day House also helped, she said.
“Everybody who was awake at the time, who was here … fought the fire,” Whitson said. “It was just residents running around with a hose from that spigot, and a hose from another spigot trying to put the fires out.”
Dmitri Shusterman, who lived in an adjacent RV, said he saw the flames and immediately drove his vehicle to the other side of the lot. He had solar panels on the top of his RV that were burned.
Shusterman’s vehicle is still running and he plans to scrape off the fire damage and repaint it. He said he’s glad he has a space to stay at the SPARK center, and it’s been “quite a bit of help.”
Robbi Montoya, Dorothy Day House executive director, said the organization will be providing all SPARK residents with fire extinguishers and smoke alarms that will be delivered in the next few days.
Rebuilding Together East Bay-North has worked with Dorothy Day House since March to focus on “egress, habitability, and life safety,” and did fire inspections for every resident that opted in, Montoya said. Fire extinguishers were available through this program on an optional basis, but they’ll be mandated for SPARK moving forward.
“We are so grateful that there were no injuries and we are working with the individual for shelter solutions,” Montoya said.
The SPARK center has been renewed twice, but is up for another renewal discussion on Dec. 6, at which point it could also possibly close. There are initial plans to move the indoor shelter to a hotel, but the fate of the parking site is still up in the air.