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.