Residents near 18th and Shotwell streets awoke Sunday morning to the sound of an explosion, and then a man screaming outside their windows — a tent was set on fire, sending one man to the hospital with severe burns.
“I was coming back from work in the morning and saw the fire,” said Jorge Silba, who was staying in the encampment. He soon realized it was his friend, Ippolito, who had been trapped inside a tent and on fire.
A woman who works at Gallardo’s restaurant said she saw a man run out into the street on fire. “It was horrible,” she said, still visibly disturbed on Monday afternoon. Just the morning earlier, a shootout broke out on the same block between police and a civilian suspect they were pursuing.
San Francisco Police Department spokesperson Officer Kathryn Winters said that “officers spoke with a victim who told them she had been in a verbal argument with the suspect. The suspect then threw an unknown substance inside the witnesses’ tent, causing the interior of the tent to catch on fire.”
The suspect then fled, according to Winters.
According to a resident in the area, medical personnel arrived at the scene five to 10 minutes after the fire started. When police responded to the scene around 8:50 a.m., the fire department had transported the victim to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.
After effects of the fire could still be found nearby on Monday afternoon, including charred remains from the encampment on that corner, as well as Silba’s scorched motorcycle.
“I don’t know when I can afford [a new bike] but at least [my friend] is okay,” Silba said, adding that Ippolito is still in the hospital, recovering. “He’s damaged, but he’s alive.”
The victim’s wife was also present, but did not sustain any injuries from the fire. Another person in the encampment tried to help the man on fire, and was also injured.
A sign posted on that street by the city said that the encampment, abutting the nearby PG&E facility parking lot, was scheduled to be removed on Thursday, Aug. 4, and that its residents would be offered “access to shelter, safe sleeping villages, and/or hotels based on eligibility.”
Residents said the encampment appeared just last week, and one woman said she had called 311 to report a large stack of bikes.
According to staff at La Scuola, the encampment was moved last week but its residents quickly returned to the 18th and Shotwell intersection.
Victor Lim, a spokesperson for the Department of Emergency Management’s Health Streets Operation Center, said the team conducted in-person outreach prior to Aug. 4. On that day, “multiple individuals were offered and placed into shelters and navigation centers,” Lim said. “Others that declined the offers decided to remain on site.”
According to the SFPD, arson investigators responded to the scene and took over the investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call the SFPD Tip Line at 1-415-575-4444 or text a tip to TIP411 and begin the text message with SFPD. You may remain anonymous.
The SFPD’s data on crime can be found here.
Update: this story was updated with a response from the Department of Emergency Management.