Five Alarm Fire Displaces Dozens at 29th and Mission

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

If you would like to help victims of the fire, please visit our list of suggestions here.

A five-alarm fire erupted at 3112 Mission St. shortly after 2 p.m. on Saturday, sending up a plume of smoke that could be seen around the city and affecting some six buildings around 29th and Mission streets. Firefighters said they had searched a number of buildings and had not found any victims.

No major injuries to residents were reported, though two bystanders were treated for smoke inhalation. Some 58 tenants were displaced, 24 of whom sought temporary shelter in the Salvation Army. The rest were housed with family or friends.

Several of the displaced were formerly homeless, and one family had been displaced by the 2015 fire on Mission and 22nd streets. Nine businesses were suffered either fire or water damage.

Firefighters advised anyone who lives within a five block radius the area to shelter in place and to shut their windows due to heavy smoke. Anybody in the affected buildings was asked to meet at the Bank of America on Mission Street near the intersection with 29th Street.

Initially the fire appeared to involve just the building on the corner of Mission and 29th. Photo by Anita O'Brien

Initially the fire appeared to involve just the building on the corner of Mission and 29th. Photo by Anita O’Brien

Fire department spokesperson Jonathan Baxter said the fire appeared to have originated near the back of the corner building at 29th and Mission — a three-story building with four apartments above a bar, the 3300 Club — though that was not yet confirmed.

Mayor Ed Lee arrived on the scene shortly before 5 p.m. to reassure the affected residents that the city would do all it could to help them recover. Lee said he would invoke the Good Samaritan — which allows landlords to take in tenants at below-market-rates through a deal with the city — to help shelter the victims. He also said corporations like Airbnb could help shelter residents, though he did not say how.

Mayor Lee listens to a victim of the fire. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Mayor Lee listens to a victim of the fire. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Joseph Williams, a resident of the Graywood Hotel — a single-room occupancy hotel at 3308 Mission St. — said he saw the fire erupt. He and another resident, he said, were one of the first to notice it.

“It was the wiring, we believe. We opened the fuse box and smoke started coming out. We seen flames coming out of the fuse box and then we seen the gas main starting to catch on fire,” Williams said.

More spreading as the intense heat could be felt across the street. Photo by Anita O'Brien

More spreading as the intense heat could be felt across the street. Photo by Anita O’Brien

Firefighters have not yet indicated a cause of the fire.

Williams, who was homeless before entering the SRO 30 days ago, was displaced along with his wife and child. He said sprinklers in the building did not activate.

“One of the main things we’re concerned about is that the mayor’s here but that the owner of the building’s still not here,” Williams said.

A building manager, who declined to give his name, said the building’s owner was out of the country.

Another resident of the same building, Kimberley Walley, has lived there with her husband for some five years, and has also been homeless before.

“They told us they will help us find a shelter, and I hope they do. I’ve been homeless, and now that I’m able to pay my rent on a daily basis I don’t want to go back to that,” Walley said. “We have nowhere to go. I pray that they do help us, because otherwise we will be out in the streets.”

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Kathy Castro, a bartender at the 3300 Club, said that somebody shouted to her that the building was on fire and that she got everyone in the bar — some seven people — out.

“I got all the customers out, shut off the electricity, gave the keys to firefighters,” she said. “I looked up and it was at the very end of our building, it was a lot of black smoke.”

Castro said that was soon as everyone was out, the wind shifted and “that was the horrible part.”

“It took over and it went right down the street,” she said, referring to the fire going between buildings southbound on Mission Street.

“There were firetrucks all of the sudden,” said Nabeel Youssef, the owner of Good Frikin Chicken across from the building on 29th Street. “And then everything blows up.”

The empty floors above Playa Azul restaurant, under reconstruction, burned fiercely and quickly. Photo by Anita O'Brien.

The empty floors above Playa Azul restaurant, under reconstruction, burned fiercely and quickly. Photo by Anita O’Brien.

A worker at Good Frikin Chicken, Bassent Gamea, said that there was an explosion in the apartments above the 3300 Club. “I heard the explosion was really loud, and then I saw flames,” she said, adding that she saw two residents evacuated.

One of those residents, 81-year-old Nancy Lopez, said she “didn’t know what was going on” until she heard the fire alarms and a neighbor came and told her to evacuate. She left the building and then realized that her cat was still inside.

“I was trying to get my cat but they didn’t let me [go back inside],” she said, adding that her cat is named “Kitty Babe.”

Her granddaughter, Nola Medina, said she was worried about the pet but more concerned with her grandmother.

“I’m worried about her cat, but I’m glad that my grandmother’s safe,” she said.

Hillary Ronen, chief of staff for Supervisor David Campos, told the displaced residents waiting for news in a Safeway parking lot that a shelter was being set up tonight at the Salvation Army on Valencia Street near 22nd. She also said that Campos’s office would help them with finding housing and “any needs that you have.”

“Our office will be here to help you with the whole process from here forward,” she said.

Theresa Keane, the owner of the 3300 Club, said it was the businesses’s 60th anniversary this year. Her family doesn’t own the building, she said, but family members have owned and worked in the bar for three generations.

“We pray nobody gets hurt and that we can go back to work eventually,” she said.

Update 5:30 p.m.

Assistant Chief Tom Siragusa said six buildings with eight addresses were affected and that 150 firefighters responded.

“We do have areas within the building that continue to flare up,” he said. “We’re going to be here for a while.”

Siragusa speculated that the fire may have spread so rapidly because of the prevailing wind and some broken windows in the burning buildings adding oxygen to the fire.

“We haven’t had a fifth alarm in some time,” Siragusa said. The last was September 4, 2014, according to spokesperson Jonathan Baxter — a discount store on Mission Street between 22nd and 23rd streets.

Rashawn Murray, the daughter of a resident in one of the affected buildings, said her mother had moved in 30 days ago after being homeless for three years.

“My heart is aching for her and everyone who is standing out here,” Murray said.

Update 6:05 p.m.

The Red Cross is assisting displaced tenants in finding temporary shelter, and will send many of them to the Salvation Army’s Mission Corps Community Center, where displaced residents of the fire at Mission and 22nd streets were also sheltered in the weeks following that fire.

In fact, Jose Hernandez, one of the displaced residents from Saturday’s fire, was also a victim of the fire at Mission and 22nd streets.

“I was working, my girlfriend was at home, she called me and she was all frustrated and I told her it’s not a big deal,” said Hernandez. “I didn’t realize how big this fire was. When I saw the smoke [I] panicked…My family lost everything at 22nd and Mission. This is like deja vu. I can’t believe this is happening to me again, but what can I do? I never give up.”

Hernandez had been living at 29th and Mission for about three months.

Luis Herrera, along with his wife and three children are among the displaced. Herrera said he was sleeping when his wife and a daughter returned from a shopping trip when they saw the smoke, but he himself was asleep.

“I couldn’t believe that was our building on fire,” said Herrera’s daughter Genesis.

Herrera had tried to put the fire out with water before the evacuation.

“We have nowhere to go,” he said.

Displaced residents of the Mission and 29th street fire. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Displaced residents of the Mission and 29th street fire. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Update 6:50 p.m.

Firefighters reported that the fire had been contained. Nonetheless, firefighting activity continued and they predicted the area would likely remain closed to vehicle traffic until Sunday morning, and closed to pedestrian traffic until late into the night.

All 40 displaced residents would reportedly be transferred to a shelter temporarily.

Update 7:51 p.m.

A spokesperson for Mayor Lee said the mayor would be meeting with affected businesses on Monday to discuss possible assistance through a small business fund, though details were not immediately available.

Red Cross staff said the displaced tenants are expected to only be sheltered at the Salvation Army for 24 hours, though where they would be sent thereafter is unclear.

In response to a number of inquiries from residents about cats and dogs in the building, fire department spokesperson Jonathan Baxter said that firefighters had a list of pets they would be on the lookout for, but none had yet been found.

Asked about the frequency of residential fires in the Mission, Assistant Chief Tom Siragusa acknowledged that “the Mission has been hit hard with building fires,” but said he did not believe them to be related or connected.

Editor’s Note: The best way to help victims of the fire is through cash donations to either the Red Cross or to the Salvation Army, according to city officials. There is also a gofundme campaign set up here via former supervisorial candidate and Frisco Five hunger striker Edwin Lindo.

If you cannot donate cash and would like to give clothing, toiletries, or other items, a reporter from 48 Hills who has been with displaced residents has put together a list of items that families are requesting.

If you can provide long-term housing to victims of the fire, please contact the Human Services Agency or Supervisor David Campos

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

At least 5 hoses forced water into the burning buildings. Photo by Anita O'Brien

At least 5 hoses forced water into the burning buildings. Photo by Anita O’Brien

The fire quickly spread to Cole's Hardware, a neighborhood staple

The fire quickly spread to Cole’s Hardware, a neighborhood staple. Photo by Anita O’Brien

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

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15 Comments

  1. I hope they’re able to identify the cause, since there seem to be conflicting reports. Glad no one is reported injured yet!

  2. Mission is blocked off from 30th Street north to beyond 29th, and the 49 and 14 buses are being rerouted along San Jose. At least 10 fire trucks can be counted in the area, some using high-pressure hoses to spray the buildings.

    The building under renovation above Playa Azul restaurant burned spectacularly, with flames shooting high into the air for 15-20 minutes until the fire hoses started to be effective. El Paisa, the restaurant next to that building, did not appear to be on fire but at least part of it has been blasted by water. Many cars on the street were blocked in by the fire trucks and could not be moved.

    An employee at Playa Azul stood in silence on the street across from the restaurant, shaken. Two tenants in the apartment building next to Cole’s on the north were also on the street–one said she had heard the sirens and come out of her building to see what was going on, and her kittens were still inside. Another tenant was at least one of the earliest callers to report the fire. She told an investigator on the street that she noticed flames coming out of a wall and immediately called 911, then knocked on the door of another tenant’s apartment to make sure he knew about the fire.

    A large crowd gathered on Mission across from the affected buildings to watch the conflagration.

  3. It seems a bit odd to me that since the market rate for rents have skyrocketed there are suddenly numerous fires, all along the Mission Street corridor, which just happens to be the next area to see massive influxes of luxury apartments and condominiums, and that almost all of the fires are occurring in buildings that would be considered historic. I guess this is one sure fire way for landlords to get rid of old buildings with rent controlled units so they can sell the lots to developers. Of course Ed Lee showed up. He is probably salivating at the thought of how many high end luxury apartments can be built there now, and don’t forget, no off street parking will be allowed.

  4. marilyn elyse

    Where can we offer donations? I have a double stroller I’d be happy to donate…

    • Laura Wenus Staff

      We’ll see if we can find out. Displaced are heading to shelter at Salvation Army on Valencia near 22nd, if all else fails maybe see if they want it there?

      Edit: Officials are telling us the best thing to donate is money to help the orgs (Salvation Army, Red Cross) help the displaced.

      • Valerie

        The place where they’re only housed for 24 hours? Is there any other way for the community to support? What if they have nowhere else to go?

        • Laura Wenus Staff

          We’ve asked whether there’s a better way to support and the answer, as with most disasters, is with money to the organizations that are helping those affected. We’ll follow up with the displaced tenants and see if any of them have specific needs and ways to fulfill them, and to see whether they will really only be at the shelter for 24 hours.

          • I would hesitate to donate money to Red Cross or Salvation Army as they sometimes use donations for their own marketing and administrative needs. Perhaps it would be best to wait and see if something is set up specifically for the people who are displaced.

      • marilyn elyse

        Thank you, Laura!

      • beth

        when we raised funds for the valencia/duboce fire in 2012, our red cross contact told us they could not distribute the funds directly to the families affected, that any donations would go to their national or north bay chapter. not sure it’s changed in the past few years, but just a heads up that if people want their dollars to go directly to the families displaces, they should donate on the gofundme page.

  5. My apartment is directly across the street from Big Lots, and the fireman are still hosing down Cole Hardware at 7:20 p.m.

  6. CORRECTION: My apartment is directly across the street from Cole Hardware.

  7. Layla

    Salvation Army and Red Cross do not specify how they will spend the money that is donated to them, eg if you think you are donating to a specific disaster there is not guarantee the money will go to that disaster. the best thing would be to donate to local Bay Area homeless charities that actively support our community rather than huge corporate charities with sketchy financial histories (Red Cross will not release how they actually spend the money that is donated to them / Salvation Army are homophobic and will not help queer people in need!)

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