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A Berkeley firefighter spreads foam at the scene of a fire under the University Avenue overpass near Second Street in Berkeley, Calif., on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. The fire broke out about 2:41 p.m. in a locked storage area that contained plastic recycling bins. Firefighters rescued two homeless men that were camping near the blaze, but there were no major injuries. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

BERKELEY -- Crews are working to determine what caused an explosion and massive fire in about 100 recycling bins Wednesday afternoon under the University Avenue freeway overpass, snarling traffic along Interstate 80 for hours.

Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong said one homeless person had undisclosed injuries but was not transported to a hospital. No fire crew members were injured, he added.

The blaze, which began around 2:41 p.m., was controlled by 2:59 p.m., Dong said. Smoke could be seen for miles, and several streets around the fire, at Second Street and Hearst Avenue, were closed while fire crews and police worked the scene.

Investigators were still working to determine the cause of the fire. Dong said that early reports that the fire was caused by an explosion at a drug lab were false.

Police said firefighters rescued two homeless men who were camping near the bins, which are in a locked storage space, surrounded by chain-link fence and owned by the city of Berkeley. Those men, who have not been identified, were questioned by police but were not arrested.

Dong said Caltrans would be checking on the condition of the overpass, which may have been damaged by fire or smoke in the blaze. There was no damage estimate available late Wednesday.


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Berkeley police said that they had no reason to believe Wednesday's fire was connected to an April 12 fire on Second Street. That five-alarm fire caused roughly $9 million in damage to several businesses in the area, including The Wooden Duck, Import Tile and Joshua Tree.

The Wooden Duck and Import Tile lost warehouses and all the stock that had been stored there. Joshua Tree -- an artisans collective for woodworkers, engineers and builders -- was entirely housed in the burned structure and took massive losses.

The cause of that fire is undetermined. The fire was ruled accidental as there were several ignition sources that could not be ruled out, Dong said.

Staff writer Doug Oakley contributed to this report. Follow Katie Nelson at Twitter.com/katienelson210. Follow Kristin J. Bender at Twitter.com/kjbender.