The huge, roaring fire at 29th and Mission this afternoon was yet another conflagration in a neighborhood where big fires – and tenant displacement as a result – have become a plague.

This fire apparently started in the back on one of the buildings on the 3300 block of Mission, right next to Safeway. At least six residential and commercial buildings were destroyed, and that number could rise as water and smoke damage is evaluated.

Flames roared out of the 300 block of Mission Street
Flames roared out of the 300 block of Mission Street. Photo by Tim Redmond

Red Cross and Fire Department officials told us that at least 40 people were displaced by the fire. There are no reports of any injuries.

For those 40 or more people, the fire was a disaster – not only did many lose all of their possessions, they lost something almost irreplaceable: Affordable housing in San Francisco.

Melvin Gonzalez has been living in the Graywood Hotel at 3308 Mission for more than 22 years. He lives on SSI, and was paying $450 a month in rent.

This wasn’t the first time he’d heard fire alarms go off in the building. “The alarm went off, but the alarm had gone off before,” he said. “Those were mostly small fires.”

There are no $450 a month residential hotels or apartments left in the private market in San Francisco, not even close. SSI pays about $700 a month. The fire could force Gonzalez, and others, into homelessness.

If the building were merely damaged, the landlord could repair it – and the existing tenants would have the right to move back. But if the place has to be demolished – and it clearly will – then there’s no right of return, and a new residential building won’t be under rent control.

Maria Romero lived at 3316 Mission for 12 years. She was paying $1,200 a month rent for a place she shared with her son. She was on her way home from her job at a café in the Castro when she heard the alarms and saw the smoke. She, her son, and their dog escaped – but there are no $1,200 a month apartments left in San Francisco.

Genesis Manyari has lived above Cole Hardware for 12 years. She was paying $1,400 a month.

Stephanie Wilson, who had been homeless until a few months ago, was also living at the Graywood. She had to abandon her home with nothing but pajamas, sandals and a jacket, and had to leave her two kittens behind

Fire was massive. Flames shot out of the tops of the buildings while the Fire Department went to five alarms. More than 160 firefighters were on the scene, Jonathan Baxter, a spokesperson for the department, said.

Mayor Ed Lee showed up and spoke to the fire chief, Joanne Hayes-White, then walked to the Safeway parking lot, where survivors were gathered. The Red Cross was collecting names and looking for a short-term shelter for the displaced.

Lee met with the Red Cross, and shook hands with few fire victims who approached him. He told reporters that the Red Cross and the city would be working to find temporary housing for the people who were displaced.

He said that he’s concerned about the rash of fires in the Mission, but argued that there’s no indication of anything nefarious going on.

Then he left – without ever addressing the larger group of displaced people who were standing around trying to figure out what had suddenly happened to their lives.

The mayor did not appear to have anyone with him who spoke Spanish. The police and the Red Cross didn’t either – Hillary Ronen, chief of staff to Sup. David Campos, translated for the emergency officials.

Sheila Chung Hagen, who also works for Campos, said that the supervisor was trying to get the city to increase the budget for rent subsidies that can help people displaced by fires find housing. Campos is also trying to get the city to buy the building that burned last year, at 22nd and Mission, and rebuild it as affordable housing – with the tenants who were displaced getting the right to move back in.

29th Street was flooded with several feet of water
29th Street was flooded with several feet of water

Two popular local restaurants, Playa Azul and El Taco Loco, were destroyed, and the neighborhood hardware store, Cole Hardware, had severe damage. The bar on the corner of Mission and 29th, the 3300 Club, which was one of the very few bars in the Mission that resisted gentrification during the tech boom, was at the very least damaged by smoke and water.

Joseph Williams, a resident of the Graywood Hotel at 3308 Mission St, saw the fire erupt. “I think I was the first to notice the fire, it was the wiring because when we opened the fuse box smoke started coming out. It was on fire. Flames coming out of the fuse box,” Williams said.

Williams along with his wife and child have been displaced again, they’ve been homeless before and is concerned that the buildings owner didn’t come to the scene “He’s not even here, it’s worrying you know. The mayor can come but he can’t? I have been homeless before, I can pay rent now I just don’t want to be back on the streets again. I pray that doesn’t happen you know,” he said.

Update 1: 

Families affected by the fire have been moved to Salvation Army shelter at 1156 Valencia. They’ll be staying here until Monday, there has been no announcement on future plans for accommodation.

Update 2:

Families have asked for specific items, the Salvation Army also feels that a curated list of selective things is a better way for them to distribute goods to the families. The list of items required are listed here according to family numbers.

 

  • shani heckman

    Mayor Ed Lee is so out of touch to suggest they will find them housing. They still haven’t found any housing for those from the fire on 22nd and Mission. Stuck on Treasure Island….

  • Pluto

    William’s complaint that his building owner hadn’t shown up was a little unfair. Other reports state that the building manager stated that the owner is out of the country. In any event when a building has a manager, the owner doesn’t have any day-to-day responsibility for managing the building.

    The fire insurance policy on my house covers the cost of alternate housing for the residents in the event of an emergency or disaster. Can these tenants not make a claim against the owners’ insurance policies?

    • wcw

      Generally, tenants sue. Here is one complaint for 22nd/Mission.

      • Pluto

        Of course, this is America, assuming a lawyer will take the case on contingency.

        But that’s really just an insurance claim anyway. Most landlord insurance policies cover not just the cost of repairing or replacing the building, but also any legal costs and awards arising that a court may decide, or which is arrived at via settlement.

        In fact, most landlord polices even cover the costs of a landlord being sued for wrongful eviction, which is one reason why landlords take risks to do that sometimes – even if they are found guilty it often ends up not costing them anything.

        In this case I suspect the insurance will pay the tenants some kind of lump sum in lieu, with prejudice, in return for them giving up their rights.

        In the very unlikely event that this was arson, insurance won’t pay, of course.

        • MKR

          Arson is very difficult to prove. A very small percentage of arsonists are ever caught

          • Pluto

            What percentage? 2%? 5%? 10%?How would you know? How do you determine where a fire was arson when SFFD, SFPD and the DA all say that it wasn’t?

            I’d be fascinated to see any data that you have over and above a hunch of conspiracy theory. Or are you just wildly speculating?

            “The clusters of fires around certain in demand areas with rent control really makes a person wonder”. Yes, they make me wonder whether these are:

            1) In an area of the city with a hot fry micro-climate
            2) In an area with a lot of old wooden buildings prone to fire
            3) In an area with a high density of tenants per units, i.e. over-crowding
            4) In an area where the lower incomes of the tenants leads to more maintenance issue electrical over-loading of circuits, accumulation of flammable materials.
            5) In an area where the lower rents mean that there are less disposable funds to modernize wiring
            6) Correlation is not causation

            The accounts I’ve seen so far indicate that the fire started in a commercial buildings where there is no rent control. Or possibly in a SRO where there are obvious extra high-risk issues.

            If you have any real evidence that arson is indicated here you should explain that, and I’ll be the first to criticize the perpetrators. But to allege that without a shred of evidence is irresponsible and slanderous.

          • julierl

            Everyone should stay calm and actually read the entire article. Flames and smoke were pouring out of a fuse box per one eyewitness. Wiring fires apparently had occurred before.

          • MKR

            Approximately two percent of suspected arsons in the U.S. are ever prosecuted successfully. This comes from national crime reporting agencies. Evidence is destroyed in the fires . Fingerprints are burned. You basically have to be caught in the act. Sure there are a lot of things that could happen to start fires in old buildings. It would have to be very bad to take down this many buildings.

          • Pluto

            Ah, but what does it mean for arson to be “suspected”? Does you thinking that it might be count? Someone engaged in noting “correlation”? Speculation?

            What national crime reporting agencies? How do they know which cases are really arson if it cannot be proven? What special access to the data do they have?

            I’m sorry but you making very serious allegations without any evidentary foundation, proof or citations. I cannot imagine why any property owner would burn down his own building. There is a real risk of someone dying and a lifetime in prison. If they are really that sick of their controlled tenants, then the law allows an Ellis eviction. Or just pay the tenants to move out.

            I think you are scaremongering and, in this case, there is already evidence merging that it was an accident and not deliberate.

          • MKR

            I am not alleging anything. making an allegation means claiming a fact to be true. If you read what I wrote I said ..”really makes a person wonder”
            I can wonder all I want. I’m sure the insurance company will do a thorough investigation as they could be liable for millions.

          • tiabgood

            Your list could also be said of Bay View – and they are not having a rash of fires. I do not know if these are arsons, but I think it would be safe to say a small percent are.

      • Wendymcumming3
    • Ragazzu

      Give it a rest, Spam.

  • MKR

    Very unlikely event of arson? The clusters of fires around certain in demand areas with rent control really makes a person wonder..,where there is smoke there is usually fire..,

    • SFguy

      Or rent control has led to these tenants renting so far below market rate that the landlord doesn’t have enough income from the property to make the proper repair.

      • Cher Stewart

        Ocaam’s razor ^

        • curiousKulak

          I’m far from willing to see this as arson, though it is possible.

          Personally, I hope I don’t ever have a fire, cuz I can’t get enuf insurance to cover my bldg as is; not to mention it being downzoned in the unfortunate event.

          But if it were arson, it would seem to follow the pattern for rent control in the Bronx in the 70s/80s.

  • rosypicture

    NYC had this problem as have all cities with housing shortages and wild rent increases… here’s an old Village Voice article. http://www.villagevoice.com/news/arson-for-hire-6401815

  • rosypicture

    These are the times that not having a locally owned alternative newspaper makes such a huge difference. Once the powers that be have eliminated investigative journalism, they can get away with murder. The article in the Village Voice uncovering a string of arsons from the 1970s and 1980s is from another era, where journalists had the time and support to deeply research stories where wrongdoing would otherwise never come to light. Certainly the San Francisco police and fire department are not receiving orders from anyone to investigate these fires beyond the immediate circumstances. Has anyone looked into any links between ownership, insurance, lenders, property management, maintenance workers, known associates of these buildings?

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  • Conspiracytheorist

    Isn’t The Greystone, formerly managed by Tenderloin Housing Clinic, now managed by The Negev?(https://www.thenegev.com/#/building/negev_mission) And isn’t this the same couple of guys who last year somehow or another got a hold of another (former) THC building that went up in flames years prior,The Star Hotel, and rehabbed it into a tech dorm? If so, that’s quite a bit of coincidental bad luck for The Negev Property Management Company.

  • AlbertoRogers

    Its tragic when housing is destroyed, either by fire or by misguided activists.

  • S.

    Why wait for facts when you can more easily assume that Ron Conway and Ed Lee set the fire to help developers turn the Mission into a California theme park, scheduled to include a furry Father Serra and a Marc Benioff dunk tank that’s $1 million per throw but you get to put your name on it.

  • chasmader

    This is just awful

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  • Rennie Helder

    Search, “fire” or “blaze” at google. Judgement is here. http://judgementexplained.wordpress.com The New Millineum in the Old testament. God’s spirit being poured out in the last days

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