On the morning of Wednesday, September 16, a five-alarm fire broke out in Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood. The fire began at around 8:20 a.m. and is suspected to have originated from a parking lot dumpster. Almost immediately, flames spread towards an adjoining building and passed through narrow alleyways, making it difficult for firefighters to control the growing blaze. Soon enough, a significant portion of the 700 block of Webster was engulfed in flames.
Priscilla Lam, a current senior at Tech, recalls being only a few streets away from the blaze and hearing a huge swarm of fire trucks coming one after another. “That was more of the commotion. It was just very smoky and that was the sign of fire. The smell was terrible,” she added. The Chinatown smoke was perceived similarly to the recent poor air quality from the California wildfires.
By 10:15 a.m., approximately 80 firefighters managed to bring the fire under control, saving the entire block from being destroyed. Several fire crews remained on scene for two to three more hours, pulling down weakened roofs and ensuring that there were no more flare-ups.
No injuries have been reported from the blaze or weakened buildings, although two locally popular restaurants, Rang Dong (Vietnamese restaurant known for its pho) and Huangcheng Noodle House, (a Shanxi spot known for its knife-cut noodles) have been destroyed by the blaze and will be closed for the foreseeable future. Both restaurants had already been struggling to stay in business due to COVID-19, and the severe damages from the fire seemed to seal their impending hiatus. Rebuilding the restaurants will require at least sixth months, if not a year. However, both restaurant owners are determined to do whatever it takes to reopen.
Jimmy Hung, the owner of Huangcheng Noodle House, shared that running the restaurant is about feeding people and spreading happiness.“Doing this job gives me happiness,” he said. “Unless I retire or get sick, as long as I can still do it, I will [reopen].” Sachiko Muruoka, the owner of Rang Dong Restaurant, similarly stated that they are going to work with their insurance and the building owners’ insurance to rebuild it. “We will come back to the same location, and we’re going to come back strong,” Muruoka says.
Besides the two restaurants, several other businesses have been scorched by the flames as well, including T&K Cafe, Gum Wah restaurant, grocery story Aloha Market, and the Great Wall Co. newspaper stand. Nearby Cathay Bank was not damaged. The Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and other local initiatives like Good Good Eatz are helping these impacted businesses re-establish themselves. To support this cause, you can check out their GoFundMe pages: