UNION CITY -- Merchants of a Union City strip mall began picking up the pieces of their battered businesses Wednesday after a four-alarm fire gutted the shopping center early that morning, effectively shuttering the retailers for the immediate future.

About 1:05 a.m., fire crews responded to reports of a structure fire at the Alvarado Place Shopping Center, 31875 Alvarado Blvd., Alameda County Fire spokeswoman Aisha Knowles said. About 50 residents in a nearby apartment complex were evacuated as fire crews worked the blaze, which was contained by about 3:30 a.m.

One firefighter was taken to the hospital with a cut to the back of his hand and was treated and released, Knowles said. Nobody else was injured in the blaze.

Several businesses were damaged in the fire, including Bombay Pizza House, Magat's Asian Groceries and Trading, Union City Dental, Phil-America Travel, Royal Fabrics, Magic Touch Beauty Salon, Little Panda Chinese Food, Raja Sweets and Indian Cuisine, Hung Video Plus, Perry's Liquor, New India Market, Bob's Quick Shop, Thai Kitchen, and Pho Vina, whose orange grand opening sign hung precariously across a charred facade as firefighters cleaned up the mess.

"We're sad, but there's nothing we can do," said Phuong Le, owner of the Vietnamese restaurant. "All the wait staff and employees had just started their jobs."

The restaurant had only been open for about a week, and it had been a busy one, Le said.


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"It's a huge loss," Le said. "I'm unemployed now."

Dental technician Gilbert Guerrero, whose wife is dentist Jeanette Guerrero of Union City Dental, felt a familiar sting when his brother-in-law called him about the fire, having had their office torched in a restaurant grease fire in the same location in 2003.

"We weren't able to use our office for close to a year after that," Guerrero said. "That's the risk of having a dental office in a complex like this."

The Guerreros, who own another office, Deer Valley Dental in Antioch, cite the loss of multiple X-ray machines, monitors and computer systems installed just two days ago as some of their items damaged in the blaze, but were able to save what they consider their most valuable possession.

"My wife walked in and got busy making sure her patients' files were intact," Guerrero said. "This is her baby. I may have built the office for her, but she is the business."

Orlando Busto, who runs Magat's Asian Groceries and Trading, one of the storefronts most severely damaged in the blaze, took over the business from his brother-in-law eight years ago, and was visibly devastated by the damage done to a business that has been in his family for the past 23 years.

"I arrived at the store and saw fire coming from the corner," Busto said, pointing to the pizza restaurant on the corner of the L-shaped complex.

Investigators determined the fire started in the rear of the building, between Bombay Pizza House and Magat's Asian Groceries and Trading, though the exact origin and cause are still under investigation, Knowles said.

Firefighters could not immediately provide a monetary estimate of damages, but between property damage and the loss of jobs, the weight of the economic impact looms heavily over the tenants of Alvarado Place.

"This is going to put us out," Guerrero said. "Insurance will cover a fraction of it, but it never covers enough. There's always a feeling of loss."

"We'll survive," he adds. "I'm just wishing for a break."

Staff photographer Laura Oda contributed to this story. Contact Erin Ivie at 925-847-2122. Follow her at Twitter.com/erin_ivie.