San Francisco Fire Department responding to a tent fire at Capp and Adair streets on Tuesday, Sept. 14. Photo courtesy of Christi Azevedo.

Residents were roused late Tuesday night by the smell of smoke and sounds of sirens responding to a tent fire at the intersection of Capp and Adair streets.

A tent abutting a chain link fence was burning around 10:15 p.m. last night, said a resident. 

According to Lt. Jonathan Baxter, the San Francisco Fire Department public information officer, the incident was closed out and “basically listed as an outside trash fire,” since the tent appeared to be unoccupied and no injuries were recorded. The original inhabitant or inhabitants’ condition and whereabouts are unknown. 

A single fire truck extinguished the blaze, which inflicted minimal damage to the adjacent property, charring corners of a stack of wooden pallets by the chain link fence. Some of the original inhabitants’ possessions survived intact.

While the incident was less severe than past tent fires, some still consider it too close for comfort; Marshall Elementary School and its playground are located 100 yards down the street.

“These conflagrations are happening constantly, causing a lot of property damage, and will eventually cost a life,” said Christi Azevedo, a local resident of 25 years and architect, who watched last night’s event unfold near her home.

She cited recent instances of burning tents: at 15th Street and South Van Ness Avenue in July, which spread to a nearby building; and Folsom Street encampment fires in the spring and summer.

Azevedo and other residents have reached out to Supervisor Hilary Ronen’s office over the past few months to talk about solutions. Ronen’s legislative aide, Santiago Lerma, has communicated with the group about efforts to address tent and encampment fires in the northern Mission particularly.

“We agree, this condition can no longer be tolerated, as it has become a serious public health problem,” Lerma wrote in an Aug. 24 email. He encouraged the residents and their neighbors to continue using 311 to report hazards, because “this data allows our office to put more pressure on the departments to deal with the street behavior.”

Baxter also said the public can call 911 to report open flames. “If someone is using an open flame to ignite a controlled substance, or … if they’re cooking on food burners, that’s okay to call 911.”

Baxter was near the tent fire site handing out smoke detectors and pamphlets on open flame use today and last week. Since speaking with Mission Local a month ago following a prior tent fire, he said the city’s Homeless Outreach Teams (“HOT”), street crisis response teams, and some non-profits are now distributing the same materials.

Like the Department of Homeless and Supportive Housing and Office of Supervisor Ronen, Baxter said the Fire Department encourages the public to report hazards by calling 311 to allow appropriate follow-up by the City’s Healthy Streets Operations Center.

In the meantime, residents and political representatives say they are pushing for more high-level change.

“It’s our office’s number one priority to push the [city] departments to continue to build housing and provide housing for these folks,” Lerma told Mission Local on Wednesday. The city is “scrambling,” he said, “and what we really need is a plan that is going to be systematic and focused and make sure everyone on the streets gets housing.”

Azevedo agrees and hopes the advocacy promised is more than “this pacifying thing.”  

She said she also understands people need to cook on the street, but she wants to see improvements, like the amount of items left on the street by tents and encampments more closely governed to minimize fire hazards. 

“If I park on the street, I get a ticket,” she said. “But I don’t have the answer.”

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"Annie" is originally from Nebraska, where she found her calling to journalism as editor of her high school newsletter. Before returning to the field, she studied peace and political science in the Balkans, taught elementary and middle school, and worked as an epidemiologist during the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow her on Twitter @anlancheney.

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  1. 311 will close and ignore any requests about encampments, immediately after they are raised.

    Sure, they may have been useful for statistics, but they’re no longer representative – since many people have just given up reporting issues.

    Convenient way of making it look like there’s no problem, and continuing to blame their inaction on COVID-19.

  2. Build shelters with mental health services using all the money shuttled to homeless “non-profits” that current operate with zero accountability. Enact right to shelter and force individuals living on the street inside. Really simple. Not accomplished in SF due to incompetent corrupt local government and reckless “compassion.”

  3. “Everyone on the streets gets housing”. A Sisyphean goal that can never be met when an unlimited amount of people can show up on the streets to claim housing. San Francisco already has housed tens of thousands of “homeless”. But it was not enough and never will be enough. What is the end game with this goal? Is there one? Or will we pass out unlimited free housing? If you were “homeless”, where would you gravitate towards? Where they welcomed you with free housing and services or where they made your street life undesirable and just not worth doing it.

    1. Well, an unlimited amount of people can’t show up on the streets to claim housing, Mark. Not even an arbitrarily large number of them. SF just isn’t that big and it turns out there all are sorts of limits. I mean, at most, only seven billion could show up on the best day, if you really think about it for a minute. And at least some of them just wouldn’t want to, even with the freebies. Like, the ones with houses and the ones on other continents. But as for the ones that do show up, just put them all in open fields and arrest the ones that use drugs and steal, like Miss 1.1% ran on in the recall. Probably wasn’t that same 1% that Bernie woulda saved us from–a non-obvious and admittedly odd Venn that demographic. What was she thinking? Anyway, your homeless rational actor is a little too Kantian, or like, economic and analytical with the super basic pro and con list, no? Maybe if the open fields have free drugs and swag bags? Wi-fi maybe. And bathrooms?

  4. I love this one:
    “this data allows our office to put more pressure on the departments to deal with the street behavior”
    They need “more” pressure?
    I guess “the departments” have never taken a stroll in The Tenderloin or even out the City Hall front entrance down to Market Street.

  5. I’d asked Ronen’s office to write a camping buffer law that mandates encampments keep some distance from structures given the risk of fire.

    It is bad enough that the Care Not Cash crowd has allowed the plight of 10K homeless people in SF to commandeer progressive politics.

    But this notion that campers get to do as they please including placing structures at risk of fire has to be dispensed with.

    As of yet, Ronen’s office has not taken any action.

    1. Bonfire of the “progressives”… they fiddle and congratulate themselves for their “moral” superiority while San Francisco degenerates. Of course the degeneration is not acknowledged by them, as their ideology is pure and untainted by mere reality.

      1. The bonfire of the nonprofiteers, compensated service providers and “advocates” who brand themselves as “progressive” but have crowded out everyone who does not stake a claim for a nonprofit on public resources.

        The progressive agenda has been constrained to funding poverty and ethnicity nonprofits and no attention is paid to the rest of politics. Transportation, parks and land use have been forfeited to the conservatives.

        Meanwhile, legislators like Ronen refuse to pick up the legislative pen and set the tone for how the executive governs.

        She actually expects for people to call the cops as a fire is burning when it is known that tents proximate to structures is a fire risk?

  6. Sure, you can call 911 for someone lighting a controlled substance, but in my experience you don’t get a response. I once called when 6 – yes 6! – crackheads were lighting up next to a soccer field full of kids. ‘Hang up and call the non-emergency number.’ Oh, and great Ronen’s office thinks tent fire warrant attention. Wow – great – thanks for that daring statement.