Oakland officials ask public for help in solving suspicious five-alarm fire, series of arson targeting housing projects

A suspicious five-alarm fire that damaged a townhouse complex under construction in West Oakland early Tuesday morning has residents and city officials concerned after similar recent arson cases have targeted East Bay buildings under construction.

The fire was reported around 2 a.m. at the Ice House complex being built near the intersection of West Grand Avenue and Filbert Street.

Crews were using cranes late Tuesday morning to douse the smoldering building with water. No serious injuries were reported in the fire, although a firefighter suffered a leg injury, possibly from stepping into a pothole, Oakland Fire Chief Darin White said.

The fire is being considered suspicious and comes after other fires at apartment buildings under construction in Oakland and Emeryville in 2016 and 2017, as well as one in Concord earlier this year.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has offered rewards for information in those earlier fires and is assisting in the investigation into the fire at the Ice House complex.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf also today asked for information on this fire and the previous cases.

“We do not know whether this fire was caused by an arsonist, but we do know that arsonists have been trying to burn down housing projects in Oakland,” Schaaf said.

“An attack on new housing in Oakland is an attack on keeping families housed in Oakland,” she said. “We are in a housing crisis and we need to build housing as quickly and effectively as possible.”

Cesar Gonzales, a 12-year resident of the neighborhood who lives with his mother at another building nearby, recalled waking up early this morning to a loud blast, then saw embers from the fire coming toward other buildings in the neighborhood.

“We’re worried that they’re going to start attacking other homes where poor people live,” Gonzales said.

Philip Kerr, chief executive officer of City Ventures, the developer of the Ice House complex under construction, said there were security cameras and a guard on site, but “still this fire started.”

Kerr said the company is “pulling all the footage and coordinating with police and fire” on the investigation.

Schaaf said anyone who has information about the case is asked to call an arson tip line at (510) 238-4031.

-Dan McMenamin and Nuria Marquez, Bay City News

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