4-alarm fire damages building at Fillmore and Haight

September 28, 2011 12:31:55 AM PDT
A four-alarm fire quickly spread to the top of a San Francisco apartment building at the corner of Fillmore and Haight streets in the Lower Haight late Tuesday afternoon.

The flames are out and 31 people need a new home, but at least no one was hurt. It is remarkable that everyone made it out before the whole building was consumed by fire. The apartment building also has a Walgreens pharmacy on the ground floor.

Haight was back open to traffic late Tuesday night after it was closed for hours as fire crews worked to put out the fire. Two or three firefighters were treated for minor injuries for things like a cut hand and smoke inhalation. There were about two dozen units that housed 31 residents and the American Red Cross is finding shelter for 14 people for the night. Investigators think the fire started in the apartment on the third floor.

The intense fire is what forced some of the apartment residents to get out of the building as fast as they could. A few people were home when the flames started just after 4 p.m. Other residents rounded the corner and could only stare in stunned silence.

"I feel distraught. It's miserable. I'm worried about our cat and that's all I really care about right now," said apartment resident Alvaro Zaldua.

Witnesses reported hearing loud popping sounds and seeing large debris fall from the building. Juan Serrato, who lives down the street, took out his cellphone and recorded some video.

"Yeah, the popping. I don't know what that was, but you could hear it everywhere and you could see it. A bunch of debris falling from the building," said Serrato.

"It just started popping and things started like explosions, pow, pow! The windows were popping and something was exploding," said witness Demetrius Jones.

In addition to the apartments, there was a Walgreen's drug store and a few other smaller businesses on the ground level that had water damage. It took about 125 firefighters about a hour and a half to contain the flames. A big challenge was an intense fire in the open attack area.

"It looks like it started up in that area on the top floor and extended to the roof, so at this time, we don't know how it started," said Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

Worried residents rushed home and were reunited with their pets. The San Francisco Fire Department rescued about a half dozen animals from the burning building, including 2-year-old 'Deogie' whose owner was at work in San Mateo. A friend rushed over here and told firefighters were to look.

"So I just tried to get here quick and tell the fire department that there's a puppy in 23, so we got her. She was scared, very scared," said Matthew Wood, a friend of a fire victim.

The fire department planned to stay on scene throughout the night in case of any flare ups. The arson team is on the case, which is standard for any fire that goes above one alarm.

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