Berkeley hotel lobby fire prompts arson investigation

Authorities are reviewing lobby security footage and have collected samples from the scene to learn more about what happened, BFD said.

Berkeley hotel lobby fire prompts arson investigation
Authorities investigate an arson fire in a Berkeley hotel lobby Saturday, March 23, 2024. Ariel Nava Photo

A man with a jug of gasoline walked into a Berkeley hotel lobby on Saturday morning and set the floor on fire, authorities report.

Berkeley police said the man poured gasoline on the floor just before 11:30 a.m. and ignited it without any provocation. The man fled as the floor began to burn, police said.

No one was hurt, but authorities said the fire could have had serious consequences and put lives at risk.

The Berkeley Fire Department was dispatched at about 11:30 a.m. to investigate the fire at Aiden By Best Western Berkeley at 1499 University Ave. (at Sacramento Street).

BFD Battalion Chief Nate Girard said responding fire crews arrived within 1-2 minutes and found that the building sprinkler system had kept the fire, in the first-floor lobby, under control.

BFD extinguished what was left of the fire and secured the building.

People at the scene told police and firefighters that someone may have set the fire intentionally.

BFD's Fire Investigation Bureau and Berkeley police are now working to investigate the arson report, Girard said.

As part of the investigation, authorities reviewed lobby security footage and collected samples from the scene to learn more about what happened.

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Guests in all 17 occupied rooms of the hotel were relocated pending repairs to the building sprinkler system, BFD said.

Most of the damage to the hotel lobby Saturday morning was caused by water and smoke, although fire did damage one corner of the lobby, Girard said.

The street was also closed for almost an hour so fire crews could access the area.

Normal traffic had resumed by about 12:45 p.m., according to a BPD Nixle alert.

Serious crime saw a 10.5% increase in Berkeley in 2023. BPD

Berkeley arson reports were up more than 60% last year, from 52 in 2022 to 84 in 2023.

Before the pandemic, Berkeley averaged about 23 arson reports each year. That spiked to an average of 65 arson reports annually during the pandemic.

So far this year, there had been at least eight arson reports through Saturday compared to 13 over the same period last year.

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