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Catholic Voice
July 10, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 13   •   Oakland, CA
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Neighbors displaced by fire welcomed at cathedral

People rousted from their homes by a fire at a construction site two blocks from the Cathedral of Christ the Light this morning found a neighborly welcome at the cathedral's event center.

Very Rev. James Matthews, rector of the cathedral, was awakened by a phone call informing him of the four-alarm fire being fought at 23rd Street and Valdez Avenue. Residents of a nearby high-rise apartment building had been alerted through the building's intercom to evacuate. Those living in nearby older apartment buildings were notified by knocks on their doors.

Father Matthews, who could see the fire from the rectory, asked security chief Giovanni Valdez to open the cathedral event center.

The priest then walked to the area where the displaced residents had gathered for roll call, and invited them to the cathedral event center.

About 200 people were displaced by the fire, said James Leeper, site manager at the evacuation center the American Red Cross set up in the cathedral's Hall of Honor. About 100 people came to the cathedral center, he said. Nearby restaurants provided plates of eggs and bacon, and coffee was available in large urns.

Around 7:30 a.m., Leeper said, many of those people left for work.

Several of those who sought refuge in the early morning hours brought with them their pets. Rev. Jayson Landeza, pastor of St. Benedict Church in Oakland and chaplain to the Oakland Fire Department, walked to a local store and bought pet food.

Blase Bova, executive director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Alameda County, came by early to see how his organization, just blocks away, could help. St. Vincent de Paul operated a winter shelter, which closed in May. That shelter's season had been prolonged because it served some of the 100 people displaced by a fire on San Pablo Ave. in Oakland in late March.

Red Cross and city representatives decided to reopen that shelter to house the 50 people who said they might need emergency shelter. Late in the afternoon, city officials said 10 people were expected to spend the night there.

Leeper, the Red Cross representative, said once a shelter was designated, the Red Cross would have it set up within four hours. Red Cross staff at the shelter would include a psychologist and a nurse, he said. Three meals a day would be served.

By 10 a.m., residents of the apartment building were being allowed, a few at a time, to re-enter their building for a few minutes to retrieve personal items. The city has not yet determined when residents can return to their homes.

Although the fire had been controlled, concerns remained over the stability of a construction crane at the building site. Oakland fire officials said construction crews will be working over the weekend on stabilizing it and removal.

Ashes and small pieces of debris were strewn on the plaza of the Cathedral of Christ the Light. Specialized crews were working Friday afternoon to clean.

The cathedral was untouched by the fire, and Masses are continuing as scheduled.

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