BERKELEY (CBS SF) — Homeless people were camping in an area where up to 100 recycling bins burned Wednesday afternoon near the University Avenue off-ramp from Interstate Highway 80 in Berkeley, but it remains unclear how the fire started, the city’s acting fire chief said Thursday.

The fire was reported at 2:41 p.m. Wednesday near the corner of Hearst Avenue and Second Street. It caused heavy smoke visible throughout the city and initially looked as though it might damage a highway overpass or a nearby lumberyard, fire officials said.

Firefighters contained the blaze within about 18 minutes. It did not spread beyond the recycling bins but left a mess of burned plastic behind, Acting Fire Chief Gil Dong said.

“When you get all that plastic that’s burning everywhere, it limits our ability to recover evidence,” Dong said.

He said it was not yet clear if the fire started with a campfire, smoking materials or something else.

Berkeley police rescued a disabled man who was trapped in the burning area by cutting open a fence and pulling him through it, Dong said.  The man suffered minor injuries but did not require a trip to the hospital.

California Highway Patrol officials said the fire impacted traffic on nearby Highway 80 and the University Avenue off-ramp was shut down. The off-ramp had reopened as of 5 p.m. and was undamaged by the fire.

The fire was near the location of a five-alarm blaze that caused $9 million in damage last month to a warehouse shared by three Berkeley businesses—The Wooden Duck, Import Tile and Joshua Tree.

That fire was eventually determined to have been accidental.


© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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