The five-alarm fire that engulfed Big House Inc. on Mission Street Thursday afternoon has ensured the building’s demolition, according to Battalion Chief Rudy Castellanos, who was still on the scene this morning. Fire crews are waiting for the owners’ insurance company to send a structural engineer to confirm the integrity of the building.
Masses of wet backpacks and clothes were piled up in front of the store, as brown, sooty water continued to trickle out of the storefront. Gawkers lined the opposite sidewalk, snapping photos and talking amongst themselves about the destruction, while firefighters stood around idly, awaiting further instruction.
Though the Department of Building Inspection has already confirmed that demolition would be necessary, the insurance company will do an independent assessment of the damage, after which demolition can begin in earnest.
“The best bet would be that demolition starts tomorrow,” Castellanos said. “But I think we’ll be here into the weekend.”
He added that waiting for the insurance company has put them “in a holding pattern” and that the city would likely “prod them [the insurance company] to move quickly,” since traffic along Mission Street would need to resume.
Mission Street between 22nd and 23rd will likely remain closed to all non-Muni and non-SFFD traffic until demolition is completed, Castellanos said. Four businesses adjacent to Big House Inc.—from the Arik’s shoe store to the New Mission City wholesale retailer—are within the cordoned-off area and will remain closed until after demolition. The two stores flanking the burned-out store have sustained water and smoke damage, but nothing major, he said.
The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, since an arson team “will not be allowed” into the building until its safety is assured, which may be never. “They’re not getting deep into that building at any time,” Castellanos said. “Most of their investigation will be from out here, sifting through the debris as it comes out.”
As of noon today, two engines and one truck remained on the scene with water hoses still leading up to the building, ready to pump water “within 30 seconds” if any of the “hot spots” among the debris inside were to flare up, according to Castellanos.
Juan Michel, the manager of the Payless Shoe Store down the block from Big House Inc., said that the whole incident happened very quickly, and that firefighters told them to evacuate right away. “I was doing paperwork in the back, and then I saw the smoke,” he said. “You can’t tolerate that smell, it was horrible. But then firefighters and police came by to tell us we had to leave.”
He also sympathizes with the owners of the property, saying that it’s “too bad” what happened.
A common sentiment. Hazel Narvaez, an employee at Mission Tech across the street, said that the incident was “really crazy” and that she’s sad about the destruction of the business. “I used to go to that place all the time, and now it’s gone.”
At Sheikh shoe store, employee Leitzel Martinez said the destruction of the retail store was sad because it was one of the few places like that left in the neighborhood. “The Mission used to be known for those stores,” she said. “And that was one of the few left, so it’s very sad to see them go away.”
Though demolition of the building will be necessary, it is unknown yet if the business owners plan on keeping their wholesale retail business in the space. If not, customers can always go next door to New Mission City, which has a similar selection.
Update: As of 3:45 p.m. on Friday, Battalion Chief Tom Abbot said that the owners’ insurance company had been to the site and okayed the demolition, but that he does not know when it will take place, as the scheduling is up to the insurance company. He believed a permit for demolition by the Department of Building Inspection had been approved, but could say little else.
Firefighters continued to keep people away from the burned-out building for fear of collapse, as its structural integrity has been compromised. Mission Street between 22nd and 23rd was still closed to traffic, and will likely remain so until after demolition.