OAKLAND -- Investigators haven't determined the cause of a suspicious three-alarm fire that ripped through an unfinished senior housing complex and damaged nearby BART tracks, bringing Thursday's morning rush hour to a crawl.
Agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined with structural engineers Friday surveying the site to determine when it will be safe enough for investigators to start combing through the remains to determine how and where the blaze started.
BART security cameras did capture footage of the building site at the time of the pre-dawn fire and the agency turned it over to federal investigators, BART police spokeswoman Era Jenkins said.
The project's developer released a statement Friday, saying that it "hopes to be able to rebuild the project," at 1396 Fifth St., although community and civic leaders questioned the wisdom of having homes so close to the BART tracks.
The fire incinerated the four-stories of wood framing, leaving just the concrete first floor at the site, which was pegged for a $21 million, 119-unit affordable senior housing complex with ground-floor shops.
The Michaels Co. and its development partner, LINC Housing, would not say whether they had the funds to rebuild the Red Star Senior Apartments, which received more than $2.5 million in federal and state subsidies.
BART board member Bob Franklin said that BART will become "a lot more aggressive" in
"We're not going to go through that again with this same building," he said. "If it happened once, it would be foolish not to take some sort of corrective action."
Gregory Hunter, Oakland's deputy director of economic development, said the city can't consider imposing additional conditions for the project unless the developer's construction permits expire.
The project was unpopular with many West Oakland leaders who wanted market-rate housing and questioned the appropriateness of having seniors live so close to the noisy BART tracks.
"Whoever designed the structure should have put in a wider buffer area," said Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Project Area Committee.
But the committee's Brian Beveridge said he'd like to see the structure rebuilt. "I don't know what the alternative would be," he said. "I don't want to see them drop their hands and turn it into a parking garage."
ATF assigned six agents to help Oakland fire and police investigators," said ATF Senior Special Agent Helen Dunkel. She said that the agents have been conducting interviews in connection with the fire, but would not say with whom.
A night watchman told his bosses that three men, one who appeared to brandish a weapon, forced him to flee from the building site about 2 a.m. Thursday -- about 15 minutes before the first flames appeared.
Police released a terse statement Thursday saying it didn't appear any assault had occurred at the site that morning.
A day after thousands of riders were stranded, BART restored full service by Friday morning with 53 trains running at full speed for the morning commute.
Staff writer Harry Harris contributed to this report. Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6345.