A two-alarm fire broke out today at 9:32 a.m. and burned two buildings on San Jose Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets in San Francisco’s Mission District. Some 21 residents were temporarily displaced, and students at Buena Vista Horace Mann a few blocks away were forced to evacuate.
Fire in SF Mission now at corner of 24th and Valencia, firefighters on scene pic.twitter.com/ul5cZPnsD1
— Mission Local (@MLNow) April 22, 2016
By 10:08 a.m., the fire was contained, and by 10:22 it was under control. Two firefighters sustained minor injuries — a cut to the hand and a bloody nose — and no civilians were injured.
The fire started at the back of the first floor of a three story, three-unit building 143-147 San Jose Ave. It then spread quickly to the third floor of that building and damaged the third floor of the building next door at 131-141 San Jose Ave., which is a three-story, six-unit building.
Jonathan Baxter, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Fire Department, said the units at 143-147 San Jose Ave. suffered extensive damage to the back and that just one third-floor unit in the building next door suffered serious damage.
Baxter said he did not know how long the displaced would be out of their building, but that at least the 12 residents from 143-147 San Jose Ave. would be unable to immediately return to their units. Gas and electricity had been shut off to that building.
The blaze is the second residential fire in the neighborhood in as many days – two multi-unit buildings were damaged on Thursday morning, displacing dozens at least temporarily.
Elizabeth Gleninger, who lives in the bottom unit of 143 San Jose Ave., where the fire started, said she thought the fire started from the dryer in a back laundry room. The dryer had been running for about an hour before the fire started, and she heard loud noises from the back room.
“And then all I saw were flames, bright orange, coming from that room, enveloping that room,” Gleninger said.
Gleninger’s father and his girlfriend stay near the laundry room, she said. When a neighbor began knocking on her door to alert her to the fire, she rushed for her cat while her mother ran to evacuate her father and the father’s girlfriend.
“It was an ‘Oh shit’ kind of moment,” she said. The family didn’t think to grab phones or other belongings — just people and pets. “It was just humans and cats, that was the the priority.”
Gleninger said she was only home that day because she had skipped school, and her mother had skipped work.
“It was lucky me and my mom were there even though we weren’t supposed to be there,” she said. “Thank god that our neighbors came and alerted us.”
Julissa Hernandez, Gleninger’s mother, said she had just gone into the kitchen to get something to eat when she heard crackling from the back of the unit. Then a neighbor knocked to warn about the fire.
“I ran to the back, where he said there was a fire, and it was all in flames,” Hernandez said.
The neighbor who had knocked on her door was Scott Montagnino, a resident of the second floor of the building next door, which was partially affected by the blaze.
“I went out to my back deck, smelled the smoke, saw the smoke, then I ran to the building next door and started knocking on their doors,” Montagnino said.
Montagnino and a neighbor from the burning building went down to the first floor unit where the fire appeared to have started. He said he emptied two extinguishers into the fire but that it was too big to subdue.
Monk Wellington lives on the second floor of 143 San Jose Ave. and said he was in his front room when someone knocked on his door and asked if he knew about the fire.
“We ran to the back of the building, where we have a patio area. I opened the door and smoke hit me. I couldn’t even see, it was too smoky,” Wellington said.
The fire, he said, spread along the outside of the building to the third floor.
Wellington’s roommate Kim Anderson said she is worried the back bedrooms of the unit are damaged. She said the building had not been well maintained recently and that she is not sure whether smoke detectors work.
“This is what happens with all the fires. Where do we go?” Anderson said. “The reason I was living here so long is because the building is rent controlled.”
Next door to the building where the fire began, Tom Boatman was evacuated from his unit in the rear of the building.
“I’m worried,” he said. “I want to know what happened to my apartment. They haven’t told us when they’ll let us back in. My wall is next to the fire building – they may have had to chop in to it.”
Jiro Corrales, a worker at the 76 gas station at 24th and Valencia, said workers there wasted no time evacuating. Corrales said he saw the fire start on some wood paneling near the back of the building’s first floor and then climb up.
“I smelled a burning smell like gasoline, and then I saw it was big and I called 911,” Corrales said. Working in a gas station, Corrales said he didn’t need to be told twice to leave. “We didn’t wait for them to tell us to evacuate.”
George Totah, who owns a liquor store at 24th and Valencia streets, said he jumped on the phone when he saw the fire.
“I called the guy in the gas station to tell him there’s a fire behind his gas station,” Totah said. “Can you imagine? The last thing we need is a fire 20 feet away from a gas station.”
One passerby told a reporter the smoke originally resembled fog climbing up the building.
“I could feel the heat from here,” the passerby said, standing in front of Papalote Mexican Grill on 24th Street.