Investigators pinpoint start of 5-alarm SF fire

December 23, 2011 7:46:35 PM PST
San Francisco investigators can't say just yet what triggered Thursday's devastating five-alarm fire, but they know where it started: Inside a trash chute in one of the three damaged buildings.

Forty-one people are now displaced this holiday weekend, but thank to some quick action by firefighters and a nearby construction crew, nobody was killed. The construction crew was renovating a school that surrounded the burned buildings and was the first to stop the fire.

As he saw the flames and smoke billowing over a next door apartment building, Nicholas Tooley and some of his fellow crew members called 9-1-1, then ran inside the building.

"We had a fellow worker of ours go over, he grabbed a sledge hammer, started busting open doors, running through clearing rooms making sure we could get as many people out of there as we could," said Tooley.

Manuel Nevarez is th guy who wielded the sledge hammer. Nevarez knocked down a door at one apartment where the resident wasn't answering shouts to get out.

"Instincts came out, and we heard people that were still inside," said Nevarez. "Fortunately we did get in a room. The guy was working night shift, was asleep."

They figure they were able to get more than seven people out of their apartments before fire crews arrived to begin battling the blaze.

Investigators say the fire started in a trash chute and was pushed along by midday winds. The fire quickly grew to five alarms. For some of the 41 displaced, returning home was a dreaded task.

"Just feels like a part of you is kinda gone, you know?" said Seth Morgan. "Stuff you can't replace."

"I just want to get my stuff, see if there's anything that remains and just move on I guess," said resident Angel Plascencia.

People have been pulling up to the nearby Missionary Temple CME Church to donate anything that might be useful to displaced residents.

"A tweet blast went out and the word got out, and people just been bringing stuff," said Rev. Harlan Jones with Missionary Temple.

The Alamo Neighborhood Association is helping out as well by trying to retain neighbors who might now be out of a home.

"If you have a place where someone can stay, let us know, send an email to the board at Alamo Square," said Lisa Zahner with the neighborhood association.

With all the activity on the day following the fire, someone still had the construction workers in their thoughts. A banner was hanging outside their gate next door as they arrived to work Friday morning.

"It was a warm welcome this morning to see that," said Tooley.

The construction company was nice enough to buy the crew a pizza lunch for a job well done.

Most of the residents are staying with friends or family during the Christmas weekend. The neighborhood association has also set up a Paypal account on their website, AlamoSQ.org where people can donate.

Anyone who wants to donate to the American Red Cross can do so at www.redcrossbayarea.org.


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