In the early hours of the morning on Sunday, July 11, a makeshift tent on the sidewalk caught fire, and the fire spread to the nearby building at the corner of 15th Street and South Van Ness Avenue, damaging the exterior of the corner apartment, according to the San Francisco Fire Department.
The fire department was initially called at 3:37 a.m. By 3:57 the fire had been extinguished. Lt. Jonathan Baxter, the public information officer for the San Francisco Fire Department, said there were no injuries. The whereabouts of the tent dweller are unknown.
Martin Aguilar and Javier Zarut were smoking a blunt on Monday morning in a tent across the street from the fire scene. They said people living in tents come and go, but the “morena” — dark-skinned — woman who was between 40 and 50 years old had been living on the corner of 15th and South Van Ness for about a week.
Carlos Padilla, an 85-year-old from El Salvador who has lived at 15th and South Van Ness for 20 years, said in Spanish that he was sleeping when the fire happened, and woke up to the sounds of the firefighters, who broke through his door to get inside the apartment.
Padilla held up the broken parts on the door, as he explained Monday morning that he is waiting for the firefighters to come fix his door and clean up the debris from when they broke into his apartment to check for fire.
According to Padilla, the lower apartment next door which was impacted “was not occupied.”
Baxter said the fire is categorized as “an accidental encampment fire,” which is not to be taken for arson. He noted that he is aware of some residents’ concerns in this corridor over fires starting near tents, and has spent time passing out flyers to homeless residents which warn them of the dangers of open flames.
“We have taken it on as a Department to engage that population to ensure safety.”
And Jason G., a resident who lives around the corner on Folsom between 15th and 16th, seemed to be one of these concerned residents. Biking by the burnt building on Monday morning, he stopped to inquire about what happened.
Learning that a homeless encampment had sparked the fire, he was not surprised. According to him, on Tuesday, June 22, there was a fire at a homeless encampment on Folsom Street. The fire department confirmed the fire occurred.
And another encampment fire occurred on the 1900 block of Folsom Street the afternoon of April 15. In this case, a tent in which meth was being cooked caught fire, and three cars were damaged. The Fire Department said this fire was not arson. In both instances, no one was injured.
Jenn Bowman, who lives in a nearby building, said the encampment was leaned up against the building using blankets and boxes. During Sunday’s blaze, Bowman said the flames were almost two stories high, and that she and her partner saw five children in the unit above the fire looking out the window. “My biggest concern was the children and low-income families in the building,” she said.
“I just feel like it can’t go on with these fires happening.” she said.