CONCORD (CBS SF) — A three-alarm fire at a five-story, under-construction apartment building in downtown Concord early Tuesday left two people injured and forced the evacuation of around 250, according to Contra Costa Fire Protection District.
Fire Marshal Robert Marshal said the two people were sent to the hospital for smoke inhalation. The fire was contained by 5 a.m, but continued to burn and smolder.
According to Marshall, those evacuated came from the Renaissance Apartments across the street from the structure that faces the fire at 1825 Galindo St.
Marshall said the fire – first reported around 1 a.m. – was at the second phase of construction of the Renaissance Apartment Building. He said the building was a large structure that consumes an entire city block. It was 60 percent complete and was a mostly wood structure that was emanating embers when the fire first started.
“The majority of the building was under construction without any sheetrock whatsoever, so there’s just no way to control that,” Marshall said.
Marshall said ladder trucks around the blaze dumped water on the structure, with 18 engines on scene and around 60 firefighters battling the blaze.
“We have a fairly decent-sized collapsed area,” he said.
According to the California Highway Patrol, motorists on Interstate Highway 680 were able to see the fire from the freeway around 1:15 a.m.
Efforts to fight the fire closed Galindo Street at Clayton Road and Salvio Street as well as other streets in the area.
Resident Tina Simms says she went numb as orders came to leave the area.
“Because you could smell the smoke, see the burning embers drop. And you knew it was very serious,” said Simms.
As of 10 a.m., Willow Pass Road still remained closed at several intersections. Closures remain in place at Clayton Road and Mira Vista Terrace, Galindo Street and Clayton Road as well as Concord Boulevard at Grant Street.
There was no estimated time of when the fire will be extinguished, but Marshall said he expects crews to be on the scene for most of the day. An early estimate on damages, per Marshall, is in the millions of dollars.
Contra Costa County Health Services has lifted a health advisory issued following the massive fire, which sent smoke and other residue into the air that could affect people sensitive to respiratory illnesses.
Residents are advised to avoid direct contact with or inhalation of ash and debris from the fire. These materials can be cleaned with soap and water, but health officials suggest getting the ash damp first to minimize the generation of dust.
The pollution from the fire could end up accumulating in nearby creeks and rivers, so people who live near the fire should avoid sweeping any ash or debris into storm drains where it might adversely affect the watershed.
Residents living nearby were advised to leave and walk to Todos Santos Plaza, the nearby downtown square, but were told later Tuesday morning that the advisory had been lifted and the fire was no longer causing any health concerns.
At the height of it, the fire emitted so much heat that it melted plastic fencing across the street.
As Tuesday afternoon edged towards evening, about 200 people living in the Renaissance Apartments remained under an evacuation order with no timeline on when it will be lifted.
Many evacuees were still coping.
“It’s quite difficult. This has been a lot of stress,” said Kevin Okoeguale.
Residents were allowed back in briefly to gather belongings Tuesday afternoon,
“I’ve got two little boys — a two year old and two month old — and they are with my spouse at the Hilton. It’s been really, really difficult,” said Okoeguale.
The big issue behind the evacuation is an interior wall of the burned building. Until it falls or the building is safe to enter and shore it up, those folks will remain displaced.
Earlier Tuesday afternoon, a large portion of a wall and scaffolding collapsed.
“We have a shelter open and are serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and a place to stay,” said Diane Dupuy with the Red Cross. “We are here to help.”
It was unclear what sparked the flames. Fire officials said it is still too dangerous for investigators to go inside and even too unsafe for residents to get back into their neighboring apartments.
“We are currently evaluating the structural integrity of the fire building. There is a risk of that building collapsing, so we are evaluating the feasibility of those folks getting back into their residence,” said Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Assistant Fire Chief Aaron McAlister
Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister said it was the largest fire in the city’s recent history.
The apartment complex is the fifth large housing construction project to burn in the East Bay since 2016, but authorities would not speculate on this fire being related to those earlier fires.
“It’s far too early for us to draw any connections,” said Steve Hill with Contra Costa Fire. “Obviously there are some similarities, but it’s too early to connect any dots.”
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives national response team is set to arrive Tuesday night to help with the investigation and will be on scene Wednesday.
Firefighters expect to tear down the remaining walls of the damaged construction site that are still standing Wednesday afternoon. Until that is done, residents at the Renaissance Apartments will likely remain evacuated.