Massive 5-alarm fire burns multiple buildings in San Francisco's SOMA, Mission, forward progress stopped

Officials are still investigating the cause of the 5-alarm fire in San Francisco that burned six commercial buildings, displaced three residents and left one firefighter hurt.

ByAmy Hollyfield and Luz Pena KGO logo
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Massive 5-alarm fire burns multiple buildings in SF
A 5-alarm fire in San Francisco Tuesday morning burned six commercial buildings, displaced three residents, and left one firefighter hurt. At least half a dozen businesses have been affected, SFFD says.

SAN FRANCISCO -- A 5-alarm fire in San Francisco Tuesday morning burned six commercial buildings and left 3 residents displaced and one firefighter hurt. Crews say the forward progress of the fire on Erie Street, an alley North of 14th Street at S. Van Ness, has been stopped and crews are expected to be at the scene for days.

"I got here on the second alarm," said Deputy Chief Victor Wyrsch with the San Francisco Fire Department. "It was fully involved, the fire building, and rapidly moving to the second building. The rapid succession from the second, third, fourth to the fifth was very quick. When we got here we had huge problems with power lines on the Erie side. We had transformers falling to the ground. We had to back everybody up, we had to reposition."

LATEST: Official gives afternoon update on 5-alarm fire in SF

Fire crews are still at the scene to contain multiple hot spots and flare-ups, Lieutenant Jonathan Baxter with SFFD said in an update at 5 p.m. The fire is still considered an active blaze, meaning it has not yet been contained.

Firefighters on scene said the fire was so huge, they did not have an adequate water supply to fight it. With a total of 6 buildings burning, the water they were getting from the nearby fire hydrants wasn't enough.

"We exceeded all the hydrants. We used our Jones Street tank, then our Ashbury tank and now we're flowing water all the way from Twin Peaks all the way down here. We got 100 million gallons going," Wyrsch said.

Among the commercial buildings that burned was a roofing supply company, an auto parts shop and a Sheriff's Department field operations building. A deputy was inside. Firefighters helped him secure the building.

"He said he had ammo in the basement. I said get out all the ammo, get everything out. It was a concrete building, so he was in a safe position," said Wyrsch.

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Wendy Parker was among those displaced by the fire.

"I was woken by one of our maintenance people who lives nearby beating on the doors inside saying there was a fire," said Parker.

As the blaze burned 6 buildings around her. Wendy Parker grabbed her phone and looked for her cat Luma.

"I tried to get my cat that hides, and I wasn't able to get her," said Parker.

Lt. Baxter said crews went into the building in search of the missing feline but could not find any sign of Luma.

The heavy flames quickly jumped from one commercial building to the next as 160 firefighters fought the aggressive blaze. One firefighter was hurt and released several hours later.

"He said he was OK. He is a tough guy but we are going to go check on him anyway," Wyrsch said.

Several businesses away from the blaze at Avenue Body Shop, Joel Flores jumped into action.

"Oh, like hell. I thought it was going to jump over this side," said Flores.

Flores removed 10 vehicles from the potentially danger zone and made space for fire crews.

"Active preparedness is something that is commendable if not anything heroic by this business owner to make sure that not only is his business safe but our firefighters are safe," said Lt. Baxter.

The gray smoke covered the sky of the SOMA neighborhood as many were evacuated and had their power shut off. Public transit was rerouted around the area.

"San Francisco fire will be here actively throughout tomorrow morning if not longer. So expect delays and street closures within this footprint through at least tomorrow morning if not longer," said Lt. Baxter.

There is no indication of what might have caused the blaze. SFFD firefighters will remain on scene putting out hot spots in the area for several days.

"Our hearts as the San Francisco Fire Department go out to everybody affected directly, indirectly by this five-alarm fire, especially during COVID-19, civil unrest," Baxter said. "We want people who were affected to know, we stand with you."

The Red Cross is at the scene to provide assistance to everyone impacted.