A two-alarm fire blazed high into the sky from a three-story apartment building on 26th and Osage streets at 2:30 p.m. this afternoon, according to Deputy Chief Patrick Gardner. No one was found inside the building during a search and no firefighters were injured, Gardner said just before 3 p.m.
Firefighters were still trying to contain the fire in the walls of the building, which were visible to onlookers. They believe the blaze started on the second floor and spread up through the roof, popping out glass in the windows, but the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Third-floor residents Max Hurwitz, 26, and R.J. Philips, 24, were inside the estimated 16-unit building when the fire began and suspect that it started in the central stairwell where trash is stored and people are known to smoke.
“People leave ashtrays in the stairwell, I wouldn’t be surprised,” if the fire was caused by a flicked cigarette that landed on the trash, they said.
Hurwitz said the crackling woke him from a nap. He ran to the kitchen and saw flickering lights from the door leading to a stairwell. He opened the door and found the fire blazing. He quickly shut the door and and started yelling for his roommate, Philips, who was studying for a philosophy final at San Francisco State University.
The two grabbed a fire extinguisher that Hurwitz’s mom had given him and attempted to put out the flames.
“We double teamed it,” said Hurwitz, re-enacting the scene.
But the fire was too large so they ran out of the building down a different stairwell. Hurwitz was able to grab a backpack with his wallet and laptop, but Philips was not so lucky.
“My whole life is in there,” said Philips, who was standing on the street in gray long johns looking extremely distressed.
When the two fled the building, other neighbors were screaming and running out.
Six fire engines and two trucks responded from at least five different fire stations, including the nearest on 26th and Church streets as well as stations in Bernal Heights and Potrero Hill.
One firefighter was poised on the top of an extended ladder over the building as a precaution, but firefighters inside the apartment were able to “stay on the offensive” and contain it from the inside, said Deputy Chief Gardner.
It was easier to put out the fire because the alley beside the house gave better access and allowed the truck to come in, a firefighter said.
Hundreds of people crowded around the scene, the air reeking of smoke. Some who were near the fire before police cordoned off the street were dusted with soot. The smoke blotted out an otherwise blue sunny sky as it began to rain.
Local resident Lori Engels contributed photos of the fire.