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BART Transbay Tube opens after day of hellish commute

Early morning fire near West Oakland station closes tracks

BART announced at 3:44 p.m. that its West Oakland station was open for normal service, after the Transbay Tube was shut down Thursday morning because of a three-alarm fire at a construction site near the West Oakland station.

AC Transit buses were picking up displaced BART riders, but bus lines grew long -- stretching for blocks in some locations -- as riders found that there was not enough space on arriving buses to accommodate them.

Mark Stuart, 62, of Roseville, waited in line outside the MacArthur station for an AC Transit bus to San Francisco. He said he was visiting the area and was on his way to the U.S. Open, and had been encouraged by event organizers to take BART.

Stuart said around 8:30 a.m. that he had been waiting for more than half an hour, and had made it little more than halfway to the front of the line, which stretched several blocks behind him.

He plans to stay in the Bay Area until Sunday, and said he has been doing some sailing while he's in town.

"I actually could have sailed faster than taken BART," he said. "We didn't know about this until we got down to the BART station."

Majid Amini, 26, a nurse who lives in Concord and commutes daily to San Francisco, said his typical commute from Concord takes about 45 minutes, but that today he was anticipating it would take as long as two hours, and that he would be very late for work.

He said, however, that his boss was stuck in traffic and would understand his predicament.

"I was going to ride my motorcycle," he said. "I should've done that."

The fire, near the corner of Seventh Street and Mandela Parkway, was first reported at 2:15 a.m., a fire dispatcher said. Flames spread to neighboring buildings, lampposts and elevated BART tracks, leading firefighters to shut down power to the tracks.

Multiple structures were still burning near the West Oakland BART station as the morning commute began, and BART tracks were shut down between the West Oakland BART station and the 12th Street Oakland station.

Fire officials are investigating reports of suspicious activity that may be related to the fire, which 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. Transit buses were picking up displaced BART riders, but bus lines

— Bay City News Service

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