The upper unit of a duplex at 20th and Dolores streets caught fire and experienced moderate damage at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. It will be red-tagged, or deemed uninhabitable, and the homeowner will be temporarily displaced, said San Francisco Fire Department Battalion Chief Ethan Jackson.
Eli Merritt, who owns the building that caught fire and lives in one of the units, was inside his home when he smelled smoke and heard fire alarms. He called the fire department right away, and firefighters showed up within two or three minutes. The fire was contained quickly.
“The San Francisco Fire Department is the most amazing fire department on the planet,” Merritt said. “Everyone is okay.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Jackson said. There were no injuries, and the fire was categorized as a one-alarm, or the least severe. Merritt thought the fire’s source could have been related to a paint job on the front of the house, but wasn’t sure.
About 20 to 30 minutes after the blaze was extinguished, a group of firefighters were still on top of the building’s roof and walking in and out of the front door. A crowd of neighbors stood watching the aftermath from across the street, darting up to Merritt every now and then to ask if he was okay.
“All of my neighbors are here,” Merritt grinned. He was still carrying his laptop under his arm. He milled around the scene, talking to his insurance company every now and then on speakerphone.
Other neighbors, Elisa and Carolyn, said they noticed the smoke billowing. At first unsure if their own buildings were on fire, Elisa and Carolyn each grabbed some valuables and ran out their door.
Carolyn was in the shower when she heard dogs barking and smelled smoke. “First, all you could see was smoke,” she said. “Then the firefighters were on the roof and axing it, and you could see the flames.”
“I told our cleaners, and I ran up to tell our neighbors to exit the building,” Elisa said. She was still holding her passport and green card, while her husband rescued gifts from his grandparents.
Less than 20 minutes into the call, firefighters began knocking on the adjacent building to investigate if any flames had spread over.
“I don’t want to knock in the door if someone can let us in,” one firefighter said to another. Just then, Robert, who lives in the next building over, came back from his lunch break.
“They were going to break in, but I gave them the keys,” he said. To his knowledge, all of the building residents were out of the house. The fire appeared contained to the original building that Merritt lives in.
A pair of men down the street, by 20th and Valencia streets, said the smoke was so thick at one point, “you couldn’t see the fire engines.” Passersby on 21st and Mission streets noticed a thin veil of smoke, too. The smoke could be smelled through the windows of Mission Local’s office, above 21st and Mission. While the 20th and Dolores block was cordoned off to cars, pedestrians traversed the sidewalks, watching as a river of water from the fire hydrants sloped down the street.
“Everyone did a great job, the fire extinguished quickly, and we mitigated concerns in the neighboring building,” Jackson said.
Robert said he was told he could return to his home in about an hour. At about 3:20 p.m., firemen began wrapping up the hoses.