Fire breaks out at Mission District senior housing complex

The fire at 1855 15th Street. Photo by Walter Dukes.

Update 12/1/17: According to BRIDGE Housing, one of the nonprofits that manage the building, all residents were able to return to their apartments, with the exception of the resident of the damaged unit, who was relocated to a hotel. One additional resident (whose apartment is undamaged) requested and received temporary relocation due to the smoke smell. Repairs to the damaged apartment are estimated to take around 30 days.

Firefighters have extinguished a fire on the seventh floor of Mission Dolores Senior Apartments at 1855 15th Street that left five people with non-life-threatening injuries, according to Jonathan Baxter, a San Francisco Fire Department spokesperson.

Baxter said all of the tenants may be able to return to the building this afternoon — the damage is limited to one unit on the seventh floor, and the property owner may have some units available for relocation.

The fire was reported at 1:21 p.m. and quickly upgraded to two alarms. It was contained by shortly before 2 p.m.

Melanie Casinas, 70, who has lived on the fourth floor of the senior home since 2006, was in her apartment when she heard an alarm and smelled smoke.

Management initially told tenants to stay put, Casinas said, so she tried to seal off her apartment against the smoke.

“When I started to smell smoke, I put a towel under the door,” she said.

But, moments later, firefighters arrived and told her to evacuate.

Walker Dukes, 73, has lived in the building for 25 years. He had just returned from the grocery store and was just settling in to relax when he heard the alarm sound, then stop, then sound again a few times. He assumed it was a false alarm, but evacuated when firefighters told him to.

Dukes guessed that between 150 and 200 people live in the building. He had just moved back into the home after three months of temporary relocation for construction. The whole building is being remodeled as part of a citywide transition of public housing to management by housing nonprofits, in this case BRIDGE and MEDA.

“We are just going through this huge construction, and I just got back after three months, now this,” Dukes said. “I hope I don’t have to stay in a hotel tonight.”

Soon after Duked said that, Baxter told reporters chances were good tenants would be able to return.

He also took the opportunity to remind reporters and the public about proper fire extinguisher use: Small fires only.

“I know one [tenant] utilized the dry chemical extinguisher, and then became overcome by the flames and the heat and the chemicals from the extinguisher,” Baxter said. “We want to remind the public that if you have a fire that’s bigger than a regular wastebasket, that’s not the time to use a fire extinguisher — that’s the time to get out of the building safely, making sure your friends and loved ones are out as well, and calling 911.”

Firefighters are investigating the cause of the incident.

The fire is the second in two days in the Mission District. A two-alarm fire on Shotwell Street near 24th Street on Wednesday evening displaced 11 people.

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