Three Berkeley police officers made a daring rescue of two men who were trapped by a fire near the University Avenue off-ramp to Interstate Highway 80 in Berkeley Wednesday afternoon, the Berkeley Police Association said.
Up to 100 recycling bins in a storage enclosure where homeless people had been camping burned in the fire, which was reported at 2:41 p.m.
It sent heavy smoke into the sky that was visible throughout the city and threatened to damage the overpass and a nearby lumberyard, Berkeley fire officials said.
The fire was first noticed by Berkeley police Lt. Andrew Rateaver, who called for backup and detectives Melissa Kelly and Ana Baber arrived to assist, police association president Sgt. Chris Stines said today.
"I could hear a man screaming and he was locked inside a chain link fence where the fire was roaring out of control," Kelly said in a statement today. "We couldn't get the gate open and had to reach u nder the fence to rescue the man and get him away from the burning fire." They pulled the man -- an amputee who is missing a leg -- through the fence to safety, Stines said. After the fire was out the man was able to recover his wheelchair.
The flames rose 12 feet in the air and the officers saw another man trapped in the enclosure. The officers managed to pull him through a gap in the fence with the assistance of a passerby, Stines 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 Thursday.
"When you get all that plastic that's burni ng 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.
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.