Pubdate: Tue, 02 Jan 2001
Source: Oakland Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2001 MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers
Contact:  66 Jack London Sq., Oakland, CA 94607
Fax: (510) 208-6477
Author: Harry Harris, Staff Writer, Oakland Tribune


$250,000 In Damage In 'Suspicious' Blaze

OAKLAND -- A building that housed a Fruitvale District needle exchange and 
community outreach programs was heavily damaged by a three-alarm fire New 
Year's Eve, officials said Monday.

No one was inside Casa Segura, a two-story cinder block and stucco building 
on the 3200 block of San Leandro Street when the fire broke out about 8:11 p.m.

The origin and cause of the fire is still under investigation, authorities 
said, adding that for now it has been deemed "suspicious."

The first firefighters to arrive saw flames shooting out second-floor 
windows on the building's south side.

The fire was controlled by 8:30 p.m. by 44 firefighters, none of whom was 

Fire Department Capt. Vicky Evans-Robinson said the blaze had to be burning 
quite a while before firefighters were called because it had already spread 
through the roof by the time they arrived.

She said most of the $250,000 in damage was to the second floor, which 
houses offices.

The first floor, which has reception and waiting areas and treatment rooms, 
sustained mostly water and heat damage, she said. A room in which needles 
are stored was not damaged.

Although the building's address is on San Leandro Street, access is gained 
from the rear, at the end of a long driveway from Fruitvale Avenue.

Among the several dejected people who gathered Monday afternoon outside the 
center -- also known as The Safe House -- was the program's executive 
director, Chris Catchpool.

When first notified New Year's Eve, Catchpool said he was "just devastated. 
This has been a labor of love for us to make this a reality. We've worked 
very hard for this and to see it go literally up in smoke is devastating."

Catchpool said the building has housed the needle exchange and other 
programs since last April. The center, which had operated at other sites 
since 1996, currently has 13 employees, he said.

He said Casa Segura also does work in Richmond, and serves 600 people a 
week in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

The Oakland site exchanges 17,000 needles a week. The center also provides 
a daily meal, offers HIV and Hepatitis C testing and counseling, and treats 
at least 25 people a week for soft tissue injuries such as abscesses. They 
otherwise would have to go to Highland Hospital.

Casa Segura gets some state and county funding, but relies mostly on 
private donations, Catchpool said. Although it has had to fight in court to 
continue operating, Catchpool said Casa Segura and its programs have gained 
a national reputation for accomplishments.

Catchpool promised that Casa Segura would find another permanent site and 
the needle exchanges would continue at the present location until that happens.

"We have a lot of great and dedicated people," Catchpool said. "We will get 
back up."

Anyone who wishes to donate money, furniture or office equipment such as 
computers can contact Casa Segura at P.O. Box 7522, Oakland, CA, 94601.
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