A large fire destroyed several vehicles, RVs, shelters, and debris at a homeless encampment under I-880 near Wood Street and 34th Street Monday morning.
The blaze, which started around 10:20 a.m., led residents of the camp to evacuate while propane cylinders exploded and flames spread under the freeway bridges.
Oakland Fire Department spokesperson Michael Hunt said there weren’t any reported injuries. But OFD estimated that 20 shelters or more may have been destroyed.
A dense black cloud of smoke, visible from miles away, billowed from burning vehicles and an old trestle bridge near the BNSF railroad tracks.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District had already issued an advisory for the region on Monday, warning of smoke from a wildfire burning in the Sierra Nevada. Smoke from the West Oakland fire wafted into South Berkeley, downtown, and East Oakland, worsening air quality.
The California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, closed I-80 westbound to I-880 southbound and I-80 to I-580 in the eastbound direction due to the fire’s location beneath the highway bridges.
Around 12:30 p.m., a structural engineer from Caltrans arrived on the scene to assess the damage.
OFD Chief Reginald Freeman said that crews and others will need to inspect highway infrastructure and the old railroad trestle for structural integrity. “I would not be surprised if there is a collapse of the old wooden structure because of the number of times that system has been involved in a fire,” Freeman told reporters about the railroad bridge that burned. That structure is owned by BNSF Railway and Union Pacific, OFD said.
The Wood Street encampment has been the site of dozens of fires in recent months, including 90 that occurred on the blocks between 34th Street and West Grand Avenue between the springs of 2021 and 2022. In April, a fire killed a man who couldn’t flee his RV in time.
Much of the area is owned by Caltrans, which for months has been undertaking an effort to clear the homeless camps on its property. Fires there can be challenging to extinguish because there is no hydrant located under the freeway.