Federal authorities on Wednesday morning launched their investigation into the West Oakland fire last week that shut down BART for much of the day and caused a nightmare for commuters.
Members of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives national response team began sifting through four stories of rubble left behind after the three-alarm blaze tore through the Red Star retirement home.
The site was under construction when it went up in flames in the early morning on June 14. Oakland fire officials say the blaze was "suspicious" and may have been intentionally set. A security guard told his bosses that three men, one who appeared to brandish a weapon, forced him to flee from the building
Police are still searching for the three men who confronted the security guard.
ATF estimated the damage at $25 million not including the damage to the West Oakland BART station which has tracks that run very close to the senior center. The fire affected insulators, communication cables, electrical cables and other trackside equipment, according to the ATF, and shut down the commute between the East Bay and San Francisco.
ATF investigators Wednesday began canvassing the area around the fire, interviewing people as well as law enforcement and firefighters for possible leads, spokesman Christian Hoffman said.
Oakland, short of
The agency responded with a 22-person crew including fire investigators, electrical engineers and a forensic chemist based in Walnut Creek. They will be working with Oakland fire and police departments.
The ATF started moving in mobile labs the size of big rigs and heavy equipment Wednesday morning to clear away the tangle of rebar, scaffolding and charred beams. They'll have to take out heaps of drywall. A car still remains inside the blackened hull of a building. Then a team will begin searching for the source of the blaze and try to determine whether it was accidental or intentional.
"ATF's activation of its National Response Team speaks to the seriousness of the fire that occurred in West Oakland," Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said in a statement, "and the impact it had on thousands of Bay Area residents who were affected by the BART station closure."