One dead, six injured — and a lot of families and small businesses out on the streets

Flames shoot up from 22nd and Mission.  Photo by Fran Smith
Flames shoot up from 22nd and Mission. Photo by Fran Smith

By Calindra Revier

JANUARY 29, 2015 — The four-alarm fire last night at 22nd and Mission destroyed a Popeye’s Chicken outlet, a number of small local businesses — and more than a dozen rent controlled apartments, which will perhaps be the hardest to replace.

One person died and six were injured in the fire. Fifty-four people, including nine children, lost their homes.

“To be displaced in this housing market, it’s just horrible,” Sup. David Campos, who is working with the Red Cross to find temporary housing for the residents, told us.

Hundreds of people lined 22nd and Mission staring in awe at the raging fire, which engulfed 3200 Mission Street and threatened the surrounding buildings, including the brand-new luxury condos just finished next door.

A body was pulled from the flaming building and carried across the street to a Wells Fargo Bank, where rescuers attempted in vain to resuscitate the man. Police haven’t released his name yet. It’s speculated that the he died from a heart attack as well as second-degree burns.

Among the 12 people rescued from the raging fire, five escaped down the internal stairwell and the rest out the fire escapes on the Mission Street side. Four were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and burns.

Firefighters and police, as well as unpaid fire reserves, contributed to the containment of the fire, which is aptly referred to as a “surround and drown operation.” San Francisco is the only city in the world with a triple-redundant water system, which was set up after the 1906 earthquake.

According to Officer Grace Gatpandem, mixed reports indicate that the fire possibly started in the basement but was amplified when it reached the attic of the building. Arson inspectors are now looking into the cause.

San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White told us that “open buildings like this tend to have a lot of fuel.”

San Francisco Fire Commission member Michael Hareeman echoed Hayes’s sentiments: “I just heard firefighters talking a moment ago about how the older buildings tend to have a lot of fuel and this one here you can see has quite a bit of age on it. A lot of plaster and wood, not conducive to when the fire starts. It becomes difficult.”

But then added “It started in multiple places it looks like, it makes you wonder what’s going on.”

Dianne Brennan, a resident of San Francisco, said “I wonder how much arson is in play. I don’t know but it sure seems like there’s been a lot of fires in the Mission District these last few years.”

Ironically, as the families – many of whom have lived in their rent-controlled units for many years – were out on the streets, the brand-new luxury condos next door seemed to be untouched as multiple water streams blocked the fire from jumping over.

Campos was on the scene. “It’s tragic but we are very grateful to our firefighters who are working with Red Cross and other city agencies,” he said, and added: “The city will work to find a place for the displaced families to stay.”

People were told that they would not be allowed into the building until tomorrow at the earliest. In the wake of the devastation of property and home loss, the next steps for them seem to be frustratingly still unknown.

When the landlord rebuilds the apartments, the current residents will by law have the right to move back in and retain their rent-controlled tenancies. But that could take months or years – the damage is massive. Sometimes buildings this badly burned need to be demolished and entirely replaced. And if history is any guide, many of the current residents will be forced to find permanent housing somewhere else – most likely out of the city.

Small businesses have no rent protections – and while a big chain might be able to weather the loss of many months’ business, the locally owned shops may have trouble surviving.

Rachel Lederman posted the following info on Facebook this morning:

From the SFTU: If you know a tenant or family displaced from the fire that occurred at Mission and 22nd yesterday (1/28/15), they have the right to return to their unit and possibly to financial support to relocate as repairs are happening to their units. Please connect them to the tenants rights/housing organizations in the Mission to find out more: Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco , San Francisco Tenants Union ,Eviction Free San Francisco, Causa Justa Just Cause, and Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA). The Tenants Union can be contacted at sftu@sftu.org and at our office 2 blocks away at 558 Capp St.