San Francisco‘s first five-alarm fire in eight years sent people running for their lives and huge flames completely engulfed an apartment building in the Western Addition neighborhood.
High winds spread the blaze spread to three adjacent structures, including a school, a single-family home, and a large apartment complex.
• A five-alarm fire engulfed a San Francisco apartment building and spread to three other structures.
• A total of 32 dwellings were destroyed, with more than 60 people left homeless.
• More than half of the city’s firefighting force was at the scene. It took them three hours to get the blaze under control.
• Officials have not yet determined what started the fire. It remains under investigation.
The fire was reported just before noon, according to ABC News coverage reported by the local KGO affiliate news team.
The blaze started in a three-story, wood-framed Victorian-style apartment building at 1502 Golden Gate Avenue.
“I ran in and called 911, told them our building was on fire because I didn’t know where it was,” apartment manager Richard Lenhart said. “I could see the smoke coming in at the north end of the building through one of the windows.”
When firefighters arrived, high winds already had spread the flames to another apartment building at 1015 Pierce Street, on the corner of Golden Gate Avenue, fire chief Joanne Hayes-White said. It later spread to an adjacent school and single family home.
Residents didn’t have time to grab any belongings before they escaped from the burning buildings. They had to run for their lives as huge flames tore through their apartments. All of the residents and most of the pets were quickly accounted for, but one cat was missing. Firefighters later found the cat deceased inside of the building.
It took 150 firefighters — half of the city’s daytime force, according to Hayes-White — more than three hours to get the raging fire under control, Hayes-White said.
“It was a challenging fire to fight, but given the time of day, it was actually helpful because most people were out of their dwellings,” the chief told CBS News.
The blaze that was so hot and intense that firefighters couldn’t get to the top floor of the Golden Gate condos to search for trapped residents, Hayes-White told the San Francisco Chronicle. Firefighters attacked the flames from the roof of the apartment building on Pierce Street before they drenched the building with water, the chief said.
“If you don’t make an aggressive attack, it is likely you will lose the entire block,” she said.
Eventually one of the fire commanders ordered all firefighters and police out of the buildings because it appeared the structures were about to collapse, police captain Denis O’Leary told SF Weekly.
“I have not seen anything like this in years,” O’Leary said.
One civilian and one firefighter were transported to a hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation, according to the KGO report. Another firefighter suffered a minor burn injury on his neck and also was hospitalized.
The Creative Arts Charter School was closed for winter break, so no students or teachers were in the building. The school suffered water damage from sprinklers and blown-out windows, according to the Chronicle.
A total of 32 dwellings were completely destroyed, according to CBS. More than 60 people were left homeless, with all of their belongings destroyed just three days before Christmas. The Red Cross was helping residents displaced by the fire.
Mayor Ed Lee came to the scene and promised that the city would do everything possible to support displaced residents.
“We will be here all night helping every family,” he said.
Officials have not yet determined what caused the fire to start.
Here are more photos of the fire. Click on a link to see the image full-size.
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