BERKELEY (CBS SF)  — A roaring four-alarm fire raced through the attic space of a three-story Berkeley church building near the University of California campus Friday, destroying the historic structure and driving firefighters from the building as debris tumbled down upon them.

Firefighters battled flames that could be seen shooting through the roof of part of the First Congregational Church at 2345 Channing Way. The church includes the main building along with secondary structures and occupies an entire block on Dana Street between Durant Avenue and Channing Way.

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At about 12:30 p.m., the Berkeley Fire Department responded to a report of a fire at the church annex which includes a thrift store and daycare center.

Fire officials evacuated the building and called in crews from outside the city to assist. At the height of the blaze, 60 firefighters were on scene.

Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong said crews tried to aggressively attack the blaze, but the flames grew too intense.

“Unfortunately, we were not able to suppress the fire and it got into the attic space and spread through the building,” he told reporters.

There was a partial roof collapse and a chimney also came tumbling down. The fire chief said one firefighter was briefly trapped inside the building.

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“There was a mayday called as we were abandoning the building,” Dong said. “He had to bail out of the building because of the rapid spread of the fire… He’s okay.”

Dong said the blaze quickly grew to four alarms and mutual aid was requested from nearby Oakland, Albany and Alameda County fire departments. The fire spread to the main church building where smoke was seen coming out of the large canted roof.

The historic church, Dong said, has also been used as a winter shelter for the homeless in Berkeley.

Firefighters feared that more of the roof at the burned out annex and a second chimney could possibly collapse.

Dong said there was still no way to tell the cause of the fire. Investigators will have to wait until the fire is put out before they will be able to safely enter the burned out building.

A university dining and residence hall is located across the street from the burning church.


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The roads surrounding the church were closed to traffic.