The day of the Mission fire, Elvis Rivera had just arrived home and saw smoke coming out of his neighbor’s window. He thought of calling them to joke if the beans on the stove were burning.
But then Rivera heard someone pounding on his door. “Open the door, we are burning,” someone shouted in desperation. When he unlocked it, his neighbor, Jorge Flores, was standing in front of him, already a victim of third degree burns.
“He couldn’t get out and he told me ‘thank you for answering the door,’” said Rivera.
Flores, a DJ on 503 Radio Zone, came in and Rivera immediately started pounding on his roommates’ doors, Milagros Rodríguez and Mauricio Orellana. He also grabbed the cage where he kept three small pet birds.
Rodríguez went out first through the fire escape on the third floor. Rivera followed, carrying Flores over one shoulder and his birds on the other. On the second floor, the fire escape got stuck in the awning, but firefighters rescued them. They also rescued Orellana, but it was too late. He had a heart attack and died at the scene of the fire.
Flores was taken to St. Francis for first and third degree burns to his face, ears, arms, hands and back. Doctors induced a coma because the pain from his injuries was unbearable, said Lucía, Flores’s wife who is now staying at the Salvation Army with her two sons.
Flores woke up three days ago and he is expected to be released sometime in the next two weeks. “The first thing he did at the hospital was ask for me,” said Rivera who, with his wife, is also staying at the Salvation Army.
Rivera too had his own small trauma on the night of the fire. After helping to rescue Flores, he stood by the building wearing only flip-flops, shorts and a shirt. He looked up at the flames and fainted. Rivera and Rodríguez were treated for smoke inhalation and other minor injuries.
“I am still sore but we have to snap out of it and thank God that we have a new opportunity. And thank the Red Cross and the Salvation Army for their help, we have yet to see how we can resolve this situation,” said Rivera.
Flores’s son Jimmy said he was working at Costco on 10th Street when he got a call from his brother about the fire and he made it to the building as quickly as possible. Initial reports indicated that one person had died, but no names were released.
When Flores heard from his neighbors that the person who had died had headphones on, he immediately thought it was his father because he often wears headphones when mixing music for his radio show.
“I almost fainted,” said Flores when he saw his father was alive although badly burnt. “It’s one of those things you realize life is too short. He just looked weak and he’s a tough dude, he’s athletic, he plays soccer and does his DJ thing.”
Rivera, who is a painter and has lived in the building for the past nine years, was often seen painting on the second and third floors of the building. He blames the lack of warning on the absence of any alarm.
As other tenants have told Mission Local, Rivera agreed that the apartments on the third floor did not have smoke detectors or alarms.
He added to that picture recently saying, “The one alarm on the third floor was disconnected about four months ago when there was a false alarm last time. It wasn’t hooked back on.”
For the Flores family the last few months have been filled with emotion. Last May, Flores’s younger son Marvin, who worked as a cook at Los Shucos, passed away when a gun accidentally misfired.
The night of the fire, their daughter-in-law gave birth to Marvin’s baby boy. Lucía, Flores’s wife, missed the fire because she was at the hospital for the birth of her granddaughter.
As for Flores, his wife and children haven’t yet had the courage to tell him all has been lost. Flores is sensitive to noise and panics when he thinks he doesn’t know how to get out of the hospital in case of a fire. He mostly doesn’t remember what happened but has flashbacks and gets visibly shaken, said his wife and son Jimmy.
“He is recovering from his physical injuries, but they have yet to treat him psychologically,” said Flores’s wife.
“He says the first thing he is going to do when he gets out is go back in there to save what he can,” said his son Jimmy Flores. Residents have not yet been allowed to return.