Downtown rallies after
massive construction blaze

By Tamara Steiner on May 21, 2018

Grateful Alpine Bakery owners Gabriela and Ernst Freitag watched from across the street as firefighters fought to save the family owned business from the massive April 25 construction fire that destroyed the adjoining Renaissance apartments under construction. The business escaped the blaze with fairly minor water damage. (Photo by Tamara Steiner)

One month after a massive fire torched a 180-unit apartment building under construction on Galindo Street, a grateful downtown is back to normal. Residents are back in their homes; all streets are open and a diminishing pile of scorched, smelly debris is all that remains of the April 24 blaze that destroyed Legacy Partners’ Renaissance Square Phase 2. The apartments were about 60 percent complete and due to open in late summer. The building is a total loss and damages were estimated at $55 million. The cause is still under investigation.

The fast moving fire was first reported at 12:55 a.m. and spread quickly through the wood-framed building. Residents in the Renaissance Square apartments next door had less than 10-minutes to get out before a wall of scaffolding collapsed toward their building, crushing four cars below.

With flames shooting more than 100 feet into the air and embers coming down like hailstones, the evacuated residents, some still in pajamas and clutching terrified pets, headed to Todos Santos Plaza where ­Vinnie’s Bar and Grill opened their doors to the evacuees, providing a welcome refuge from the smoke and fear.

The Red Cross set up a shelter at the First Presbyterian Church. Food donations from local restaurants began arriving almost immediately, said church elder David Stearns. “Maybe 40 people spent the night, but we were open for three days until all the evacuees returned home.”

Down the street in the Park and Shop parking lot, Alpine Bakery owners Gabriela and Ernst Freitag sat in their car and watched as firefighters mounted a heavy defense against the flames threatening to destroy their business. The bakery stood mere feet from the burning building. “It was not pretty, Gabriela said. “We bit our nails and prayed.”

“It was our fear all during construction that it would catch fire and burn,” she said, “because of the fires in Oakland.”

The recent Concord fire bears an eerie similarity to fires that destroyed two other construction projects in Oakland and Emeryville since 2016. The Oakland project burned twice within several months and no cause was ever determined. The Emeryville fire was arson.

The firefighters were successful and the Alpine Bakery survived with only water damage.

“They let us in to the building around 6 a.m.,” Gabriela said. “When we opened the door, the water was rushing like a river through the store.”

“We’re really lucky, though,” she said. “There was no smoke or fire damage. We were closed for nine days, but we have really good insurance.”

Debris removal from the fire continues. “It’s slow going because the builders are trying to save the foundation and anchor bolts,” said Ryan Pursley from the city’s Building Division.

All the material was fire damaged and cannot be recycled, said Pursley. But because it is new construction, there are no concerns about hazardous waste. “No asbestos, PBCs or lead paint were used,” he noted.

The fire is the largest in Concord in anyone’s memory, said Mayor Edi Birsan. “But we are Concord,” he said. “We will rebuild.”

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