Leaning against the doorway of his charred building on Monday, 15-year-old Diego Vasquez said he is coming to terms with the fact that “everything my father has worked for” is lost.
“I don’t show my emotions,” said Vasquez, who lived at 33-37 29th St. with three members of his family and two friends before a five-alarm fire on Saturday destroyed the entire corner of his block.
The Department of Building Inspection officials reported on Monday that two of six affected buildings will be demolished. Seven businesses suffered either water or fire damage, and 58 people were displaced.
The Vasquez family was among a handful of those who were allowed a few minutes to enter their homes on Monday morning to salvage what they could.
“They were told to take portable things, like documents, pictures, clothing, and other valuables,” said William Strawn, a spokesperson with DBI. The department limited the time tenants had to collect their things because the building had not yet been thoroughly assessed.
“There might be health issues from all of the toxins,” he said.
Tom Hui, director of the department, said that preliminary investigations concluded that tenants displaced from the Graywood Hotel at 3308 Mission St. and two neighboring buildings, 29-33 and 33-37 29th St., will likely be able to move back once the buildings are restored.
Joshua Arce, a candidate for District Nine supervisor and community liaison with the construction union Local 261, said that a contractor had already looked at the Graywood Hotel, which housed many of the displaced residents.
“We are looking to make sure we get all the men and women to come out and get the work done as soon as we can get the permit,” said Arce. He said the levels of asbestos and lead in the building had to be analyzed first.
But “when that happens, you can start moving really quickly,” he said.
Jonathan Baxter, a spokesperson with the Fire Department, confirmed at a meeting that the fire originated at 3312-16 Mission St., home to Cole Hardware and four unoccupied residential units. The building has been deemed irreparable.
Heavy winds caused the fire to spread north to the corner building housing the 3300 Club and Graywood Hotel, the latter a single-room occupancy hotel at 3308 Mission St. with 34 rooms. The mostly low-income and formerly homeless tenants there were told they would not be allowed to enter their building until Tuesday because it has yet to be cleared by the Department of Public Health.
The fire then spread west to three other buildings along 29th Street that housed businesses and residents. The 12 tenants evacuated from 39-43 29th St. — three doors from the corner building — were happy to find out that their building was unscathed, but since the power lines had been cut, they needed to await clearance before moving back in.
“We are so lucky,” said Patrick Matthews, a resident of the building. On Saturday, Matthews said that after being evacuated, he watched the fire spread from across the street. “I was watching the fire unfold the entire time. It somehow stopped right before it came to our house.”
But others were not as fortunate. Under the watchful eye of building inspectors and escorted by fire fighters, tenants of two buildings next to the corner building — 29-33 and 33-37 29th St. — entered their apartments one by one Monday morning.
“I feel very bad,” said Alexis Solis, who was displaced from 29-33 29th St. where he had been living with his nephew, Orban Lopez, for four years. All they managed to retrieve were two suitcases full of clothes. “We did not get to stay in there long and some doors of our apartment we were not able to open.”
“Everything is wet, most of things are ruined,” said Lopez. The two men have been paying for a hotel room since Saturday.
The morning proved bittersweet for Vasquez, whose father, a construction worker, was the last to visit their building that morning.
“My dad has a lot of money in there, he’s trying to file a report right now,” said Vasquez. “That was all our savings. Everything he’s been working for the whole time.”
But sitting next to a framed painting of the Virgin Mary and several boxes of clothing, Vasquez’s younger sister, Emily, cradled a bowl with a pet turtle named “Daisy” in her lap.
“We have no idea how that turtle is still alive. My sister was so worried,” said Vasquez, adding that Daisy has been part of the family since he was three years old. “We found her in the kitchen where we left her.”