Photo by Cristiano Valli

First filed at 1:13 p.m., updated at 5:30 p.m. 

Firefighters battling a five-alarm fire on Mission between 22nd and 23rd Streets that broke out at 1:05 p.m. today had contained the fire to one building by 4:20 p.m. Still, the department considered the fire “active,” according to Mindy Talmadge, a spokesperson for the Fire Department.

Two civilians and two firefighters were being treated for smoke inhalation, she said. Talmadge added that the department was releasing some companies that had been helping through the afternoon – at one point 132 men and women had been on the scene.

By 4:50 p.m., firefighters who had worked much of the afternoon from large ladders in front of the Big House discount store at 2632 Mission St. had stopped spraying water at the building. One firefighter standing on the ground, however, picked up a hose again and aimed at the facade. Another firefighter said they would be there through the night.

Clearly, however, the scene had changed from earlier in the day when thick smoke engulfed the block – all of it coming from the one building. The air had mostly cleared by 5 p.m. and a tangle of yellow hoses, wet and charred merchandise and weary firefighters were all that remained.

It’s still unclear how the fire started. Talmadge said that the owners of the discount business, Big House where the fire began, received two complaints of fire safety violations – one in 2009 when an inspector visited to tell them to widen the aisles between merchandise. The store complied, according to Talmadge. There was another complaint in 2013, but the Fire Department could find no violation at the time.

Thursday’s fire broke out just after 1 p.m and filled the commercial corridor with smoke that billowed north toward 22nd Street pushing pedestrians toward 21st Street to escape the dense smoke. Soon after the fire started, employees from most of the buildings between 22nd and 23rd Streets were evacuated by their employers. All Muni lines were rerouted.

Paula Reina, who works at Marketing for Total Care Plus, clinic that just moved onto its new location on Mission Street on Tuesday, was right next to the fire. “I was working on my computer when my boss yelled “Fire” – Immediately, there was smoke. I couldn’t see anything. It was like 9/11 up in there.”

Doctor Anthony Ngo, who owns the the Total Care Plus clinic, immediately evacuated his employees. “I saw black smoke out of the window and I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “We gave everybody the day off.”

Sasha Wizansky, who lives a few doors down on Bartlett, the street just West of Mission and behind the fire, saw clouds of smoke from her living room window. “My baby was napping and I just grabbed her and ran,” she said.

Some 132 firefighters were on the scene throughout the day – many of them on Mission Street in calf-deep water as their battle wore on.

Earlier in the afternoon Talmadge called the fire “stubborn,” and said it was especially challenging because of all the merchandise in the store.

Moreover, Talmadge said they could not send personnel into the store because there was too little ventilation.

Big House is on the west side of Mission Street between a computer store and another discount store.

Talmadge said there was minor damage to nearby buildings.

At Big House, the roof collapsed during the course of the afternoon. As of yet, fire officials have not determined the cause of the fire.

As the afternoon wore on, the smell became more acrid and Talmadge warned that people should stay out of the smoke.

Over the course of three hours, the fire seemed to ease off and flare up. The smoke, which cleared for a bit around 1:25 p.m., again blanketed Mission Street at 1:40 p.m. By 2:15 p.m. much of the thick smoke had cleared again, but the fire worsened. Flames rose from deep inside the building and in minutes, smoke again engulfed Mission Street.

At 2:25 p.m., three more firetrucks arrived – already eight were on the scene. More hoses were hauled up two ladders as firefighters aimed at the building. Mission Street was closed at first from 22nd to 24th Streets and then from 20th to 24th Streets. The crowds of people gathered at the corner of 22nd and Mission streets to watch were pushed north by fire officials. Bartlett was closed from 22nd to 24th streets. Foot traffic was being allowed on 24th Street.

Sometime after 2 p.m. the Water Department activated the Twin Peaks reservoir to provide additional pressure to the high pressure hydrants. At 2:55 p.m. Pacific Gas & Electric cut off power to the block of Mission Street where the fire started.

Big House is the location of the fire. It is on the West side of Mission Street.

The building where the fire originated is a two-story building with a large discount store at the bottom,.

From our office at Mission Local on Mission Street, we could see firefighters going up the ladder of the three story building at 1:50 p.m., but the street in front of our office on the corner of 22nd St. was engulfed in black smoke.

Firefighters also worked to reach the fire by going through the back at 115 Bartlett Street. Rebecca, a neighbor at 113 Bartlett St., said she saw the flames through the backyard at around 1:05 p.m.

Firefighters pumped water  through the back of the store using a hydrant on Bartlett Street.

“Smells different, it’s not a campfire. It doesn’t smell like smoke, it’s like gasoline…There were these three Chinese discount stores right there, I think it’s one of the souvenir shops,” said one onlooker, who works in the US Bank building.

“Never seen a fire so big on Mission,” someone from the crowd said. Indeed, it looked facing south on Mission Street as if the block was entirely consumed by smoke and early on it was impossible to see where the fire had started.

“We’ve been here four years and never seen anything like this,” said John Broomall, who works in US bank building. He said alarms there went off and they vacated. He wasn’t sure which shop it was as they could only could see smoke.

 Many of the neighboring buildings were evacuated including Sketchers, Total Care Plus, Anna’s Linens, Wells Fargo.

Clouds of smoke billowed out onto Bartlett — firefighters entered through a row of buildings on Bartlett.

Colin Bowring, who also lives on Bartlett Street helped the firefighters enter the courtyard between the buildings,  advising them not to approach over the roof 117 Bartlett St., which is undergoing repairs for leaks.

Ben Rosenfeld, who  lives in the 113-115 building on Bartlett Street, happened to be making a call when he saw the smoke from the building on Mission Street. “I actually ran outside with a fire extinguisher,” he said, wiping his face with a wet bandanna. When he realized the fire was too big for him to fight alone, he ran outside to call the fire department on his cell only to find the network wouldn’t support the call.

Sion Shankel, who lives around the corner on 23rd Street, said that as soon as she learned there was a fire, she came running to see what she could do to help. What was needed, it turned out, were pet carriers – she brought one for neighbors who were evacuating cats.

“This fire department is number one in the world, so I have a lot of confidence,” Shankel said.

Firefighters are going in through the back on 115 Bartlett Street. Photo by Laura Wenus
Photo by Laura Wenus
The fire that broke out at 1:10 on Mission and 22nd, as seen from a roof of a nearby building. Photo by Laura Wenus

More Video of the fire:

IMG 6748 from Mission Local on Vimeo.

Firefighters coming in with hoses from Mission Local on Vimeo.

Flames on Mission Street from Mission Local on Vimeo.

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Andrea hails from Mexico City and lives in the Mission where she works as a community interpreter. She has been involved with Mission Local since 2009 working as a translator and reporter.

Daniel Hirsch is a freelance writer who has been living in the Mission since 2009. When he's not contributing to Mission Local, he's writing plays, working as an extra for HBO, and/or walking to the top of Bernal Hill.

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  1. Once again thanks to all the lads ‘n lassies of the SFFD who put their butts on the line to protect us. Bon appetit.
    Patrick Monk.RN. Noe Valley.

  2. When the smoke clears hopefully something more worthwhile will replace the plastic junk shop that burned, i.e., 10 stories of new housing.

  3. My understanding is that this was a commercial building and not a residential building. Both the business and the property owner would no doubt carry fire insurance and so should be made whole.

  4. Thanks for this news mission local. Just a reminder: we don’t use the word fireman anymore because it leaves out all the women who work as firefighters.

    1. Molly: Yes, you are right and my apologies. I just realized I had done this as I was rereading the story. One of he reporters returned and said, it is amazing how many women are out there fighting the fire. Best and thanks to all for all of today’s work. Best, Lydia

    2. Molly, who is “we”? The word “fireman” has a currency that is widely used and nobody who uses that term is denying that there are also females in SFFD.

      The word “firewoman” would just be silly, while “fire person” or “fireman/woman” are both artificial and clumsy.

      Political correctness can be taken too far, and this is an example. Do you also not use the word “manpower”?

      1. well, Sam, if you google “fireman” you get 4 million-ish hits; the first hit is the “firefighter” definition. A lot of not-institutional websites will follow.

        if you google “firefighter” you get 20 million-ish hits.

        plus, just reading newspapers, or looking in their archives, you can notice how obsolete “fireman” has become.

        so, I guess that “we” means “almost everyone, already”.

        political correctness can be taken too far, I agree. but this is an example of quite the opposite; it seems like the world accepted “firefighter” with no grudge [it’s still struggling with “mankind”, tho]