Garage fire on Alabama Street between Cesar Chavez and Precita. Photo courtesy of Lauren Smiley

An elderly man is being treated for smoke inhalation after a garage fire broke out on Thursday afternoon in his three-story residential building at 1538-1540 Alabama St., between Cesar Chavez St. and Precita Ave. 

The fire department first received a call just before 3 p.m., and upon arrival found smoke billowing out of the ground-floor garage. The fire was quickly contained to the garage, but both residents of the two-unit building have been displaced due to “heavy smoke damage,” said Assistant Fire Chief Brook Baker, who was on the scene this afternoon.

Andre Castagne, who lives on the second floor and owns the building, was not seriously injured but was transported to the hospital to be monitored overnight. He will turn 90 in a few months. 

The third-floor resident, Ingmar Kauffeldt, 78, was out running errands when the fire broke out and said he “didn’t have a clue” what happened until he came home during the incident. Kauffeldt and other neighbors expressed their fondness for Castagne, who is from France and does not have family nearby since his wife’s passing six years ago. 

The official cause of the fire is still under investigation, but the fire appeared to have started in the garage below the two apartment units.

Several residents were roused from their homes by a honking horn as the fire broke out. Holly Romanick, who works from a garage in the next building, came outside to investigate and found smoke pouring from the neighboring garage. 

The honking was coming from Castagne’s car, which was parked inside and now appears destroyed. 

Romanick said she started yelling for Castagne, who came out of the building after about two minutes. He was wearing a cap that protected the top of his head, but his exposed hair was singed, Romanick said. His face was covered in soot and the inside of his nose was blackened. 

“Crew shows up, got a real quick attack on it,” said Baker from the fire department. “Our primary concern is always life safety.”

Both units sustained “heavy smoke damage,” Baker said, and repairs will be required on the building before residents can return to their homes, and utilities were shut off due to concerns of the fire reaching electrical apparatuses. 

This story is breaking and may be updated as more information becomes available. 

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

"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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