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Alameda Belt Line Office Burns

Fire at entrance to Jean Sweeney Park under investigation

The building at the East entrance to Jean Sweeney Park on Atlantic Avenue caught fire early in the evening of Monday, February 12. It was put out in approximately 25 minutes by the Alameda Fire Department. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.

Alameda Post - the charred exterior of the Alameda Belt Line office building
The aftermath of the fire the next day. Photo Mike Kadel.

“The Alameda Fire Department responded to a reported commercial structure fire at approximately 6:44 p.m. on February 12,” AFD Public Information Officer Kevin Tidwell told the Alameda Post. “The initial response was three engines, two trucks, a medic unit, a police officer, and the Alameda CARE Team. The first arriving unit reported heavy fire from the front of the structure. It was then upgraded to a working fire.”

The Alameda CARE Team (Community Assessment Response and Engagement) is led by AFD and provides 24/7 alternative response to nonviolent individuals facing mental health crises.



“The CARE Team is part of our response party for structure fires and vehicle accidents,” said Tidwell. “Just like we attach an ambulance to all of our calls, we attach the CARE Team to calls and that gives us extra personnel to assist with whatever the incident is.”

Prior to February 12, some Alameda residents in the area had made calls to various City departments and services, including the CARE Team, to report unhoused individuals making fires in the front porch area of the building.

Alameda Post - Alameda Belt Line office
Historic Alameda Belt Line office sign. Photo Rick Morgan.
Alameda Post - firetrucks respond to the Alameda Belt Line building at Jean Sweeney Park
AFD arrived on the scene Monday evening to address the blaze. Photo Mike Kadel.

“The City, as well as the Fire Department as well as the Police Department, have been aware of some people utilizing that building and the front porch,” said Tidwell. “Various groups of unhoused individuals have been using the porch for shelter, especially during the recent rain storms, so the City and their multiple departments have utilized different ways to reach out to those people. The homeless outreach team has been working with various groups of individuals to offer them alternative methods of shelter. The police chief and fire chief have been made aware of the situation and been working to try to get them different means.”

Tidwell noted, however, that the cause of the fire is under investigation.  “I’m not saying that [those individuals were] involved at all [in the fire] but there have been reports that people have been using that porch for shelter.”

When the firefighters arrived at the scene, they completed a search of the building and the area and no one was found. Additionally, there were no injuries reported related to the incident, said Tidwell.

Other calls were made to AFD reporting a “vegetation fire” and “outside fire” at the location within 24 hours of the fire, according to PulsePoint, which tracks calls for service to first responders. Editor’s note: This sentence was edited to clarify the number and types of calls made before the fire.

Alameda Post - a diagram of the roads by Jean Sweeney park with markers to indicate fire
AFD announced the fire with this photo on Facebook and warned the community to avoid the area as they contained the Alameda Belt Line office building fire. Photo AFD / Facebook.
Alameda Post - firefighters hose down the Alameda Belt Line office building
AFD on the scene of the structure fire. Photo Maurice Ramirez.

Earlier in the week, in response to reports of individuals using open flames for cooking and staying warm, Fire Chief Nick Luby spoke to the individuals who had been occupying the building to “try to give them some other options and advise them that they can’t have open flames,” AFD’s Public Information Officer said.

Dorothy Freeman, board member of the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park Fund, a 501(c)(3) charity that provides funding assistance to the Alameda Recreation and Parks Department for the park, was one of the locals who had contacted City officials to report the use of open flames. “We worry about [unhoused individuals sheltering in the building] starting a fire and burning the building down,” she wrote in an email to ARPD. She did not get a response.

“I hope that the City will be able to renovate [the building] and rebuild it instead of just bulldozing it down,” she told the Post.

Sarah Henry, Public Information Officer for the City of Alameda, provided the following response: “The fire at the former railroad building in Jean Sweeney Park resulted in significant damage to the building. While this is very unfortunate, we are using this moment to evaluate ways the fire damage could have been potentially prevented, explore ways to try to prevent this type of incident from occurring in the future, and continue to look at the services we offer.”

Alameda Post - a charred building which was once the Alameda Belt Line office
The historic building unfortunately suffered significant damage during the fire. Photo Maurice Ramirez.

Historically, the building at the entrance to Jean Sweeney Park served as offices for the Alameda Belt Line rail yard. “It represented what little remains of the Alameda Belt Line itself,” said Alameda Post historian Dennis Evanosky.

“It dates to 1924 when the City extended the railroad from Grand Street to Sherman Street in order to serve the California Packing Corporation’s Del Monte warehouse and the Alaska Packers Association,” he explained. “On December 15 of that same year, the City sold its railroad to the Western Pacific Railroad and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway for $30,000. They incorporated the operation as the Alameda Belt Line.”

The railroad served Alameda’s North Shore for 70 years until it closed in 1998. The building remained deserted and boarded up until Jean Sweeney Park was created, at which time it became part of the park.

Kelsey Goeres is a contributing writer for the Alameda Post. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Kelsey-Goeres.

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