HAYWARD — A fire in the 12th-floor penthouse of the abandoned Centennial Tower on Foothill Boulevard is being investigated as suspicious, and a neighbor said he believes it could be connected to graffiti that appeared there overnight.
Firefighters were hindered by the lack of supporting infrastructure — brass fittings that could have been used to pump water up the structure were missing and crews had to haul the hose up stairwells.
"It takes a little longer to get up there when the firefighters have to carry 50 pounds of hose," fire Capt. Thor Poulsen said.
Hayward firefighters were supplemented by Alameda County crews, and more than a dozen engines and ladder companies were on the site soon after it was reported at 4:23 p.m.
It was contained before 5 p.m., and officially out at 5:06 p.m., although crews were investigating a possible gas leak in the penthouse.
Chris Zaballos, a developer who works out of an adjacent building, said large, block-lettered graffiti was painted on the outside of the top floor of the tower sometime overnight.
"There were people milling about in front earlier today, with cameras," he said. "I don't know if they were taking pictures of their handiwork or if they were waiting for something to happen."
The graffiti is one of numerous large tags, most of which are done on the inside of windows throughout the building.
Poulsen said it is too early to tell what may have caused the fire in the building, which is an empty shell with no furnishings.
The structure was built in 1969 and once served as City Hall before being vacated in the late 1990s because of damage incurred in the Loma Prieta earthquake.
Although developers have expressed interest in renovating the building, it has been unused since then, although it is known to be used by transients, Poulsen said.
A homeless man who identified himself only as Adam said he's seen people entering the building as recently as three days ago.
Poulsen said the site will be designated a crime scene while investigators figure out what happened.
"I know a fire doesn't start by itself in a vacant building," he said.
Eric Kurhi covers Hayward. Contact him at 510-293-2473.