6-Alarm Blaze in Emeryville Destroys Building Under Construction

Ruins of a five-story apartment building under construction in Emeryville that burned early Wednesday. Townhomes adjacent to the blaze, shown on the right in this image, were also severely damaged.  (Julia McEvoy/KQED)

Updated 2:30 p.m. Wednesday

A five-story apartment building under construction in Emeryville was destroyed early Wednesday in a six-alarm fire that forced some nearby residents to flee as embers rained down on the neighborhood.

The blaze, which broke out about 2:45 a.m., severely damaged several townhomes adjacent to the main fire. The cause of the blaze, which was declared contained at 7:30 a.m., is under investigation.

Sierra Eschrich, 26, a resident of one of the townhomes, said she and her fiance, Peter Nagle, were awake when their cat pushed open the door to their bedroom.

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"It was flooded with orange light," Eschrich said. "We went out into hall, and we have a skylight, and we could see tons of flames above us and flames flooding the front window."

She said she and Nagle, who moved into the residence just seven weeks ago, had no time to collect belongings as they fled.

"My fiance didn't even get shoes," Eschrich said. "I tried to put my purse in the car, but firefighters told us to leave the car. ... The fire went up so quickly that they were just knocking on doors then, yelling get out. There were embers spilling down, so we ran."

Some residents of that complex were evacuated and taken to a nearby senior center. Residents were reportedly allowed to return around 7:30 a.m.

The 105-unit building where the fire started, a fully framed five-story structure just off the northeast corner of West MacArthur Boulevard and San Pablo Avenue, was reduced Wednesday morning to a skeleton of steel scaffolding twisting crazily above a mass of still-smoking debris.

The Alameda County Fire Department, the lead agency in fighting the blaze, tweeted video showing smoke pouring from several townhome buildings on Apgar Street immediately east of the main fire.

"The main body of fire produced so much heat it ignited some of the townhomes,” Battalion Chief Jim Call of the Alameda County Fire Department told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s just difficult fire to get to because it’s in so many void spaces.”

Heat from the fire also blew out windows in a newly completed residential complex at 3900 Adeline St., across the street from the burned building.

Eschrich, the townhome resident who had described her early-morning escape, said she has been told that her home is a total loss. She said she had recently updated her renter's insurance and took her engagement ring when she fled. But she added that not everything she and her fiance lost can be replaced.

"There's plenty of stuff I can't imagine we lost," she said. "I have a great-uncle who is an artist, and I thought immediately about how I had just brought his sketches upstairs. So we lost those and -- there are countless things I can't replace. I don't care about the clothes and the furniture, it's just those mementos that are hard."