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.”