"Aided by a brisk north wind, a spectacular two-alarm roof fire shortly after 9 o'clock this morning caused more than $6,000 damage to the Northbrae Community Church at Los Angeles and The Alameda" the Berkeley Daily Gazette headlined 75 years ago, Jan. 24, 1938.

"The blaze quickly spread over the entire roof of the large two-story structure and ate into the rafters and cross beams," the Gazette reported. "The crackling flames, which at times shot more than 50 feet into the air, were checked by members of the fire department under Chief George Haggerty only after they had gutted the attic and burned through the second floor plaster in several places."

Berkeley Fire Department officials said they believed the fire started when the janitor was burning "dried flowers and shrub clippings" in a church fireplace, and chimney sparks ignited the roof.

Regular firefighters were aided by a truck sent from the city corporation yard, and 30 volunteer firefighters.

Two mishaps occurred. Assistant Fire Chief William Meinheit fell through the burning roof and onto the second floor. He was treated for suspected broken ribs. And a fire department hose burst "and more than 50 spectators who had gathered to watch the fire were sprayed with a heavy shower of water."

The fire damaged several rooms on the second floor and there was water damage throughout, but papers and books of the Rev. Laurence Cross were saved when canvas was thrown over them to protect them from water dripping down from above. (Cross would later serve as Berkeley's mayor.)

Then, on Jan. 26, 1938, a second big fire "believed to have been started by a smoldering cigarette" damaged a rooming house at 2419 Channing Way, displacing "30 shivering residents," mainly UC students. The fire apparently started in the living room, and the rooming house operators who lived there fought it with extinguishers until firemen arrived.

One fireman was injured back at the station house when he missed the pole and fell, rather than slid, to the first floor.

Traffic mayhem

The weekend of Jan. 22-23, 1938, was marked by several traffic accidents in Berkeley.

Ellsworth Street resident Mrs. Minnie A. Duncan, 65, died at the hospital of a fractured skull after being hit by a car at Dwight Way and Dana. The car was driven by a 16-year-old boy who, according to witnesses, was traveling between 35 and 40 miles an hour and had just passed another vehicle.

Meanwhile, a 23-year-old man apparently fell asleep in his car while driving on Grove Street (today's MLK Jr. Way) near Prince, rolled up on the curb, and sustained head injuries when he was thrown into the windshield.

In a separate incident a 16-year-old-boy working as a bicycle messenger was hit and injured by a car driven by another 16-year-old.

Finally, at San Pablo Avenue and Dwight Way, a car with five passengers was hit by another car going in the same direction. The driver of the second car fled, but was caught in a vacant lot and brought back by two men from the first car.

However, they became preoccupied with the injuries of the other passengers and the second driver escaped for a second time, leaving behind his own two passengers, who were both injured. They said that the driver, "Max," had met them at an Oakland dance hall and "invited them out for a few drinks and a ride." He was being sought by police.

Graduation

Berkeley High School held a "winter graduation" for 327 students at Wheeler Auditorium on the UC Berkeley campus Jan. 27, 1938.