6 injured in 4-alarm Mission District fire

Flames engulf a window during a four-alarm fire at a residential and commercial building on the corner of Valencia Street and Duboce Avenue in San Francisco, Sunday, May 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

May 6, 2012 8:09:57 PM PDT
Dozens of people lost their homes in a fast-moving apartment fire in San Francisco. Six people were hurt, including five firefighters who were inside the burning building when the stairs beneath them give way.

The four-alarm fire tore through an apartment building in the Mission District at Valencia Street and Duboce Avenue, sending plumes of smoke towering over the city.

On Sunday morning the neighborhood was gearing up for a Sunday street fair, but the fire rattled the neighborhood. The fire started before 10 a.m. and it destroyed an apartment complex on the corner and severely damaged an adjacent building on Valencia. For people on the street, this was a spectacular and terrifying fire to watch.

"The windows started breaking and the flames started shooting out. There was heavy smoke coming out, and then all of a sudden the flame came out and we could feel it [on] our face," said Abselim Abdai, a witness.

"We were going in to the coffee shop to have coffee this morning and all of a sudden, someone started yelling, 'Get out, get out, fire!'" said Ardis Jerome, a witness. "I never realized how brave firefighters are until I watched them today."

After yelling for everyone to get out of the coffee shop, business owner Sultan Alkhraisat ran into the liquor store next door with a fire extinguisher.

"I tried to put the fire down, but I looked between the walls and the fire is already, very hot, so hot," said Alkhraisat.

He says firefighters got there at that moment and began their attack.

"There was fire in the bottom of the light well in back of that liquor store. When the first chief got on scene the flames were shooting 20 feet above the roof," said San Francisco Dep. Fire Chief Mark Gonzales.

One resident was safely pulled out of the building by firefighters and was sent to St. Francis Hospital for smoke inhalation.

"She was like screaming, of course she was in trauma, and they pulled her out," said Abdai.

Fire teams aggressively attacked the blaze keeping it if from spreading any further than two buildings. A total of five firefighters were injured. One injured firefighter cut his hand and one had an injury to his foot. Three other firefighters were hurt when a stairwell inside the building collapsed while they were in it; two suffered musculoskeletal injuries and the fire lieutenant that was with them received only minor injuries.

At the Baha'i Center on Valencia Street the Red Cross helped dozens of people who lost their homes. Red Cross volunteers distributed hotel and food vouchers, enough for three days. In all, 37 people came to the center for assistance. Of those, 7 of them were children from the same extended family. Fortunately, several people, especially those who live in the lower units were able to retrieve some essential items from their apartments. The fire department gave them about 10-15 minutes to take what they could.

Displaced residents say they are appreciative of the short-term help from the Red Cross. The voucher amount depends on the size of each family. As for long-term placement, the American Red Cross will help with that as well for those who need it.

"I feel bad, I feel so sad for them, so I don't know what I'm going to do. I have five kids and that's hard for me," said Lorena Hernandez, a displaced resident.

"We did find some temporary housing in some local motels for the people for the next few days, but then we encourage them to come into the office where we can do some more client casework and maybe some referrals for longer-term housing," said Barry Gruber from the American Red Cross.

Not everyone took a hotel voucher, many found a place to stay with family or friends, but everyone did take the food vouchers.

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