San Francisco officials issued emergency orders to demolish two buildings, the former homes of Cole Hardware and Playa Azul restaurant as well as an estimated four residential units, following a five-alarm fire on Saturday that displaced 58 residents.
San Francisco Fire Department spokesperson Lt. Jonathan Baxter also confirmed Monday that the fire originated at 3312-16 Mission St., the building that housed Cole Hardware. Previous reports indicated the fire had started in the SRO hotel next door at 3308 Mission St.
“The exact spot where the fire occurred is still under investigation,” said Baxter, adding that the mixed-use building has four residential units above the commercial space that were undergoing renovations and unoccupied at the time of the fire.
A city official who requested anonymity said fire investigators have thus far been prevented from identifying the cause of the fire because the area of suspected origin is inaccessible due to extreme danger from debris. The official also said that reports from SRO residents who had encountered flames coming out of a fuse box may have been due to fire spreading from outside the building inward toward the electrical wiring.
At the meeting, Department of Building Inspection Director Tom Hui dispelled concerns of evacuated residents that the sprinkler system at the Graywood hotel failed to activate.
“The sprinklers did their job,” said Hui, explaining that a “fire wall” at the south side of the building prevented the fire from spreading into much of the hotel and caused a delay in the system’s activation.
The anonymous city official added that the sprinkler system was designed to only activate in areas of fire involvement, and therefore would not have turned on in areas that were not yet in flames.
The exteriors of several businesses ravaged by Saturday’s fire at 29th and Mission Streets were boarded up and building inspectors combed the block on Monday to assess the extent of the fire’s damage.
Hui confirmed that a total of seven businesses surrounding the hardware store have been impacted by the fire. The hardware store’s building and a neighboring restaurant, Playa Azul at 3318 Mission St., will undergo an emergency demolition as the severity of the fire and water damage make it impossible for the buildings to be restored.
Tenants of the Graywood hotel, who account for half of the displaced, will not be allowed to enter their rooms until Tuesday afternoon, as the building is still awaiting inspection by the Department of Public Health.
“Tenants will likely be able to enter tomorrow around 2 p.m. We have found some asbestos and other toxins and it is not yet safe for them to go in,” said James Sanbonmatsu, a senior housing inspector with the Department of Building Inspections.
According to Department of Building Inspection Spokesperson William Strawn, one building on 29th Street sustained some fire and water damage. Those closer to Tiffany Avenue were spared from direct damage but still had their utilities cut off.
Earlier in the morning, residents of two buildings affected by the fire, 29-31 and 33-37 29th St., were allowed minutes to enter their apartments and grab a few personal belongings. Hui said that residents may return to their homes once the buildings are restored.
“We want to save as much as we can [and] to have tenants move back,” said Hui, adding that his department will work with the landlords of the damaged buildings to move reconstruction forward.