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Photo essay: Fighting a five-alarm fire

Update, 4:53 p.m. Wednesday

Head chef and owner of Eko Kitchen Simileoluwa Adebajo has raised over $21,000 on GoFundMe for the recovery of five food businesses who lost “all of our inventory and equipment in the fire” to the 14th St fire that has yet to be extinguished, the campaign page shows. 

The money from the GoFundMe, which was started Tuesday, will be split evenly between Eko Kitchen, Crepe-Madame Catering, ChilliCali, Fulfilled Foods and one other business. Over 350 people have donated, topping the organizers’ $20,000 goal. 

The five businesses shared a commercial kitchen space in 160 14th St, one of the buildings damaged in Tuesday’s fire. The GoFundMe “is being put up to raise funds for us all to recover our things and hopefully keep our businesses going,” the page’s description said.

Update, 7:51 a.m. Wednesday

A five-alarm fire that started yesterday morning on the 100 block of 14th Street has not been contained yet, as flames and smoke still exist within the fire’s footprint, Lieutenant Jonathan Baxter said. Baxter estimated that SFFD will be on the scene for at least two to three more days and that the 100 block of 14th street will be closed for at least a week. 

The fire “completely destroyed, to the ground” two buildings, and left several others with “severe damage,” Baxter said. One or two of the buildings of the buildings may need to be demolished, and the remaining buildings have moderate to minor damage. Some buildings along Erie St also suffered from exterior damage but aren’t being included in the six-building damage count. 

SFFD has decreased its presence at the scene, with only three engines and three truck companies currently on fire watch. Firefighters are putting out hot spots to ensure that no additional flare-ups occur, but completely extinguishing the five-alarm fire is difficult, as construction material has collapsed onto the material already inside the buildings that is flammable. 

Though Baxter said firefighters “will not allow” the fire to reignite, it is “foreseeable” that SFFD will need heavy machinery to move flammable materials out of the way to completely extinguish the fire. 

Fire investigators arrived at the scene when the fire was at a second alarm, and the cause of the fire remains under investigation. 

“The process for fire investigation is very scientific and detail-oriented,” Baxter said. He noted that the fire investigation team is looking into a mattress fire that occurred in the area at 11:30 p.m. Monday night, but confirmed it was completely extinguished that night. 

Baxter also addressed rumors about the start of the five-alarm fire, clarifying that it did not begin near the sheriff’s department, and that PG&E transformers and wires caught fire as a result of the fire, as opposed to causing it. 

Baxter praised the methodical process of fire investigators, saying “We have complete faith that they will come to a positive conclusion as to the cause and origin of this fire.”

Three residents displaced by the five-alarm fire were living in an art collective in 160 14th St. The Red Cross will provide them with temporary housing for three to seven days before Human Services Agency will take over. City partners, along with the Red Cross, are providing services to business owners and employees who were affected by the fire. 

“We know these are difficult times during COVID-19, and to have this placed upon the shoulders of those who are affected during this time is heartbreaking,” Baxter said. “We feel that, we understand that, and we are here for you.”

The scene on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Mark Rabine

Update 5:50 p.m.

The Fire Investigation Task Force said the five-alarm fire this morning probably began in the rear of 140 14th St., but Lieutenant Jonathan Braxton noted that the fire investigation was still active, meaning the determination is “fluid.” 

This designation “could change” once it is safe for investigators to get into the footprint to properly evaluate the point of origin, Braxton said. The fire still has not been fully contained and the task force is still investigating its cause.

Engine Company Six extinguished a mattress fire around the rear of 140 14th St. at 11 p.m. Monday night, but it is “too early at this time to determine if that had a nexus to this fire or not,” Braxton said. 

The firefighter who suffered from a blunt force trauma injury this morning while “actively engaged in directing fire ops” was released from the hospital and is now recovering at home. He is “going to be okay,” Braxton said. 

Three residents who were displaced belong to an “art coalition homing project,” Braxton said. A cat that lived in the building is currently unaccounted for, but firefighters went into the building multiple times to find the cat or its remains. Braxton said the building was structurally unsafe but hopes that the cat is found and reunited with its owners. 

The Fire Department is working with the Housing Development Department, Human Services Agency, and the American Red Cross to ensure that these individuals and businesses are given the proper information and services to help them recover.

Though the five-alarm fire hasn’t been contained, SFFD has “rolled back” its response to just a few vehicles, and will stay on the scene until all hotspots have been extinguished. 

The Air District of San Francisco also issued an air quality advisory due to the smoke from the fire. 

SFFD will provide a media update at 7 a.m. tomorrow.

Update 1:25 p.m.

Three residents have been displaced and six or more businesses have been affected by a five-alarm fire between 14th Street and Erie Street, according to fire officials. The firefighter injured is in stable condition and “expected to be okay,” said Lieutenant Jonathan Baxter.  

Buildings 120, 140, 160, 164, 174 and 174B on 14th Street burned down or were damaged. Most of the affected buildings on Erie Street “have burnt to a point where we cannot see the addresses,” Baxter said, so firefighters are consulting maps to determine which buildings were affected. “It appears a majority of those buildings crossed from Erie to 14th Street and may very well be associated with the 14th Street addresses.” 

Baxter is “confident” that no more buildings will be affected by the five-alarm fire. Firefighters are containing hot spots and flare-ups from the fire and have stopped its forward progress.

American Red Cross and city services are on the scene to aid individuals and businesses affected, who will be assisted by the “many city-provided services” for fire recovery. Fire investigators have already and will continue to contact businesses directly impacted by the fire.

“Our city is fortunate to have a number of programs in place to assist those, from the people who live here, the people who work here, and the individuals who own these companies, to recover through this period,” Baxter said. There is a temporary shelter and recovery center set up for those affected at 1745 Folsom St., staffed by the American Red Cross. 

“Our hearts as San Francisco firefighters go out to everybody affected directly and indirectly by this fifth alarm fire — especially during COVID-19 and civil unrest when we are already under a lot of stress, we already have many uncertainties,” Baxter said. 

Investigators are actively working on determining the cause and origin of the five-alarm fire. SFFD will be at the site actively throughout tomorrow morning or longer, Baxter said. Residents should expect delays and closures in the area close to the fire throughout at least tomorrow morning, if not longer. 

Update 11:19 a.m.

The five-alarm fire between South Van Ness and Folsom and 13th and 14th streets that started this morning is 90 percent contained, according to fire officials. Since it began at 6:30 a.m, it has damaged or destroyed an estimated six buildings, including a department building used by the Sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s field operations headquarters, planning project division and “a significant amount of our administrative functions” operate out of one of the buildings affected by the fire but sustained “minimal damage” according to Sheriff Paul Miyamoto.

“This is a great example of coordinated efforts between the city response to something, the magnitude of the fire that we’ve all witnessed here,” Miyamoto said, noting how firefighters were able to “aggressively attack” the fire and thanking them for collaborating with the police department and other city agencies.

Staff at the Sheriff’s Department have been safely relocated to a staging area at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

The cause of the five-alarm fire has yet to be determined. Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson estimated that SFFD will be on the scene for several more days, though firefighters have stopped forward progress. Firefighters were able to use San Francisco’s auxiliary water supply system to pump millions of gallons of water to the scene all the way from Twin Peaks.

“We could not have accomplished what we have accomplished now, and in the past, without the overwhelming support of our community members. So again, I want to thank our community. San Francisco strong,” said Lieutenant Jonathan Baxter.

The next briefing will be at 12:30 p.m.

Photo by Madison Alvarado.

Photo by Madison Alvarado.

Update 9:30 a.m.

A fire that began at 6:30 a.m. somewhere near 14th Street and Shotwell quickly escalated from a two-alarm fire to a five-alarm conflagration, injuring one firefighter and displacing some 100 workers, Fire Chief Jeanine  Nicholson told reporters this morning. The fire has damaged or destroyed six buildings in the area between South Van Ness and Folsom and 13th and 14th Streets.

The firefighter went to San Francisco General Hospital with moderate injuries.

The fire is “75 percent contained,”  Nicholson said at 8:45 a.m.  Some 160 firefighters and 60 pieces of equipment remain on the scene, which encompasses several warehouses and other commercial buildings. It’s unclear where the fire started, she said.

“Our members have done an incredible job out here. This is what we train for. This is why we train,” said Nicholson. “It may look like a whole lot of spaghetti on the ground and everything else, but these folks know exactly what they are doing.”

The Deputy Chief of Operations, Victor H. Wyrsch, described a rapidly changing scene with the fire going ” From a first-, second-, third-, fourth-, very quick. … We had a huge problem of power lines on the street side. We actually had transformers blowing on the ground and I had to back everybody up. We had to reposition as it was proceeding to get to the third building and then another in the fourth building at that time.”

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Update 8:27 a.m.

One firefighter has been injured this morning in a five-alarm fire that has already damaged six buildings on or near 140 14th St.  and burned through one building immediately to the west. The firefighter has been taken to the trauma center at San Francisco General Hospital, according to Lt. Jonathan Baxter who will be giving a briefing at 8:45 a.m.

The fire started at one of the warehouses at 140 14th St. where Shotwell runs into 14th Street.

South Van Ness appears blocked off between 16th and 13th Streets. There’s still lots of smoke, but the fire appears to be under control at this time.

Facing East from the intersection of 14th and Mission St. Photo by Julian Mark

Update 8:05 a.m.

The blaze has been upgraded to a five-alarm fire.  The fire appears to have originated at Bartfeld Sales, a wholesale building supplier at 140 14th St. It has spread to the building immediately to the west, which at one time was a Cafe Gratitude outpost.

Mercedes has proposed leveling the three warehouses owned by Bartfeld, which has been there since 1982, and putting in a storage and service facility. 

A man who said he was the owner of Bartfeld is on the scene, but declined to talk.

A worker in one of the warehouses said the fire might have started behind the warehouse. One of the parking lots was filled with pallets and wires.

Bartfeld Sales, Feb. 2018. Photo by Lydia Chávez.

Location of the fire.

Update 7:41 a.m.

Julian Mark is on the scene and reports that the fire appears to be at 13th and Shotwell, possibly an auto repair shop.

Christian Rizo, who lives a block away, believes it’s been burning for an hour. A neighbor knocked on his door 30 minutes ago and it was already full of flames when he started watching.

“There’s no stopping it,” Rizo said.

David Pang, who lives on Shotwell between 14 and 15th, said that he heard a transformer explosion around 7:10 a.m. or 7:15 a.m.  It was loud enough to wake him up. He’s unclear if that was the cause of the fire, but power on his block has gone out.

“The fire was a lot bigger — you could feel the heat. It was so big you couldn’t get within 50 feet,” said Pang who has also been watching for 30 minutes.

The fire has spread to a neighboring building to the west: what is or used to be Cafe Gratitude

7:27 a.m.

The San Francisco Fire Department reports a second alarm fire at 13th and Folsom and is asking residents to avoid the area. Mission Local has a reporter en route.

From Bernal. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

We will update this story as we get more information.

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

Founder/Executive Editor. I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

FREELANCER. Madison Alvarado was raised in the Bay Area and moved to San Francisco after attending undergrad at Duke University. She fell in love with reporting in high school, and after a brief hiatus is eager to continue learning and growing as a storyteller. She has been covering UCSF's Grand Rounds since the summer of 2020.

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  1. These descriptions of the cause of the fire all seem very vague. Was there a mattress store / warehouse in the vicinity of the fire?

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    1. VCA Pet Hospital is a couple of blocks away and is ok. The fire primarily affected buildings on 14th, between S Van Ness and Folsom.

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      1. VCA Pet Hospital is actually on South Van Ness, the western end of the block affected by the fire. According to their Instagram feed on Tuesday 7/28, they were “smoked out of their building due to a 4-alarm fire raging around them this morning. Thankfully, no person or critter was harmed.”

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  2. I think they closed off S Van Ness, not Mission (although they may have done both, I can only see one from my apartment).

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