Suspicious activity reported around time Oakland three-alarm blaze started 

Fire officials are investigating reports of suspicious activity that may be related to a three-alarm fire near the West Oakland BART station early this morning that destroyed the framework of an under-construction senior center and resulted in the closure of the Transbay Tube.

The fire was reported at 2:18 a.m. at a construction site at Fifth Street and Mandela Parkway, adjacent to the BART station.

The blaze spread, charring lampposts, cars and powers poles, and reaching the elevated BART tracks, prompting the shutdown of BART service through the area.

Firefighters had the fire under control within a few hours, but remained at the scene late this morning putting out hot spots.  

No one was injured and no homes were damaged. Sixty-four firefighters responded to the blaze.

Oakland fire Battalion Chief Lisa Baker said there were reports of “suspicious people,” in the area around the time the fire started. Investigators are asking anyone with information on the blaze to call (510) 238-4031.

The fire burned the frame of a four-story senior center that was being built at the site. Baker said the bottom floor was slated to be a parking garage and was concrete, but that the frame that had been erected was made of wood, which contributed to the fire’s rapid spread.

Framing contractor Mario Saravia said 25 to 30 people had been working on the building’s frame for about the past two and a half months. He said the frame was 95 percent complete, and that workers expected to finish it in the next week.

Saravia said he learned about the fire around 5 a.m. today.

“I didn’t believe it,” he said. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”

The fire charred the area around the construction site, and the heat melted the bulb of at least one street lamp and the headlights and rear-view mirror of a Toyota Camry parked on Fifth Street. The brown car was discolored from the heat, and its tires were flat.

A street sign hanging about 20 feet above the intersection of Fifth Street and Mandela Parkway was blackened and unreadable.

The construction site itself was a mass of charred debris and twisted metal.

The blaze damaged power poles and lines, knocking out electricity to nine PG&E customers in the area, utility spokesman J.D. Guidi said.

He said it took hours before PG&E crews were allowed access to the site to make repairs. He said crews planned to remove the damaged lines and then bring out generators to get the affected customers back online.

He said a gas riser at Fifth and Kirkham streets caught fire during the three-alarm blaze, and crews were digging into the street this morning to access the underground supply line and pinch off the gas flow.

The leak was stopped shortly after 8 a.m., he said.

BART spokesman Jim Allison said he expects trains to be able to single-track through the Transbay Tube by early this afternoon.

He said a preliminary examination of the tracks suggested that there may not be any physical damage, and that the problem is mainly electrical. The West Oakland BART station was closed this morning.

The Transbay Tube shutdown resulted in long lines of commuters waiting to get on AC Transit buses outside of BART stations this morning.

Bay Area highways were clogged as many opted to drive to work instead of taking public transit.

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