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Fire Engulfs Building Under Construction Near Oakland's Lake Merritt

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- A five-alarm blaze engulfed a large three-story condo complex under construction near Oakland's Lake Merritt early Monday, sending flames soaring into the predawn skies and forcing nearby residents to flee from their homes.

Firefighters responded to a reported fire around 5:10 a.m. at the 41-unit construction site near Lester and Hanover avenues a few blocks from Lake Merritt.

The construction site was located at 317-319 Lester Ave., according to Fire Capt. Tracie Chin. The blaze was initially reported at 329 Lester but firefighters arrived to find it was actually down the street.

The blaze grew to five alarms as the flames quickly spread through the wood-framed building. Firefighters were slowed in their battle by the scaffolding that ringed the building.

Alsany Soumah, who lives next door, said he was almost trapped with his family in the neighboring building.

"We wake up. We are terrified," said Soumah. "We hear screaming, 'Get up! Get up! Fire! Get out!!!'"

Soumah he and his family could easily have gotten stuck on the third floor of their building.

"I opened the door and look, there was a flame in my face," remembered Soumah. "I grab my daughter and we all run out."

Falling scaffolding also pierced the windshield of a car parked near the scene. No one was in the vehicle at the time.

Fire officials later determined at least two people doing security for the site were inside and evacuated when the blaze began.

More than 100 residents were evacuated from their homes as the blaze sent massive column of embers over the neighborhood. The fire was also easily seen from the nearby highways.

"There was a little bit of a wind this morning, so embers were flying and our concern was neighboring houses were going to possibly catch on fire due to the embers," said Baker.

The complex has been under construction for about a year and a half. No injuries were immediately reported.

After the fire was put under control, firefighters remained at the scene Monday morning checking for hot spots and Lester Avenue remains closed between Newton and Hanover avenues, Baker said.

On the other side of 317 Lester, property owner Chris Lynds was thankful that damage to his building wasn't worse.

"Against this side, it was unbelievable, the heat. So it was terrible," said Lynds. "And some of the units have some damage...broken doors."

Renovations at the building began last year and the project was estimated to cost around $6 million, according to city records.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, Baker said. An official cause for the fire won't be determined for at least three days.

TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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