Photo by Andra Cernavskis.

Neighbors popped their heads out of their windows on Sunday and stopped in the streets to see what the all the commotion was about for the second time in less than a day at the corner of 15th and Church Streets.  To everyone’s relief, Sunday’s scare was a false alarm.

Less than 24 hours earlier,  a three-alarm fire tore through two buildings, one a two-unit condo at 1983 and 1985 15th Street and another a four-unit, three story apartment building at 301 Church Street, and damaged a third on the southwest corner in the late afternoon of February 21st. At least six homes in the two buildings were affected.

“It’s hard to understand how the flames got so big so fast,” said Cody Elam, a neighbor who lives down the block. He watched the event unfold, and estimated that it took firefighters a half hour to 45 minutes to quell the flames once they arrived on the scene.

“It’s weird to see this happening over and over again,” said Arturo Cosenza, another neighbor who had stopped to talk to Elam. Cosenza had been displaced by a three-alarm fire at 23rd and Capp Streets three years ago. As Cosenza explained that he moved in with his partner while his roommates bounced around from place to place, two fire trucks appeared back on the corner.

At around 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, someone had reportedly seen steam coming out of the four unit, three story building on the corner, and firefighters were concerned that the fire would reignite. A dozen or so men entered the building but came back out shortly after when they determined that the steam was likely caused by the sun’s heat evaporating the water from the night before.


Antony Courtney stuck his head out of one of his apartment windows directly across the street from where the fire happened. He said he had watched the previous night’s flames from the window next to the one he occupied this morning.

“There was smoke everywhere. It was confusing where the fire started,” he explained.

Courtney confirmed that no one was hurt but that a cat from the corner lot had to be taken into intensive care, and he is trying to help spread the word around the neighborhood about a GoFundMe page set up to pay for the cat’s veterinarian bills.

Jason Arellano arrived home at 5 p.m. last night after a full day out with his wife and young son. They live in an apartment building next to Warakubune Sushi, the third building damaged by the fire. They were not allowed to return to their building until 8 p.m. and were happy to discover that the firefighters were able to stop the flames right before they reached the building. Arellano was worried about the corner store on the bottom floor of the three-story unit.

“We checked in with them because we go there all the time, and it looks like they just had water damage,” he said.

Photo by Louis Potok
Photo by Louis Potok

The top floors of the building appeared to have suffered the worst with the sky visible through the roof in some parts of the building.

The only victim of the fire present Sunday morning was one of the owners of the two-unit condo building directly next to the four-unit building on 15th Street. He was allowed to walk into his home and spent most of the time on his phone. He declined to comment for this update.

The San Francisco Fire Department did not return calls for comment by Sunday evening. The total number of displaced people is still unknown.

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Andra Cernavskis is a student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. She is Canadian by birth but grew up in New Jersey and then San Francisco's Miraloma neighborhood. She has also spent time in Toronto, Buffalo, and Montreal. The Mission is one of her favorite neighborhoods, and she is thrilled to be back reporting in San Francisco.

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