The fire started around 9 p.m. on the first floor of the 35-unit Franciscan Towers apartment building and traveled up the garbage shoot and began burning up the sixth floor at the very top. It got so hot that part of the roof collapsed into the sixth floor. Firefighters contained the blaze at about 10:15 p.m. Several flare-ups were knocked down early Wednesday morning.
At least 24 residents received medical attention, four of which were hospitalized, mostly due to smoke inhalation. No life-threatening injuries have been reported.
The low-income housing building is home to many disabled residents. Firefighters were plucking them out of the top floors. People who escaped stood on the sidewalk, looking up and watching nervously, concerned many of their neighbors could still be inside.
"We had to grab a couple of towels and put them over our face so we could come down the stairwell and get out," said resident Cordell Lynch. "There's a lot of people in there, elderly people, people in wheelchairs. It's hard to get out of there."
"You could see smoke just coming up, up, up," described resident Frank Sparkman. "The whole hallway was like a towering inferno in there. It was just unbearable.
"A lot of smoke in the hallway when I opened my door and then I heard screaming from the street, people screaming, 'Come down, get out of there! Get out of there!' said resident Matthew Costa.
Overnight, about 89 displaced victims awaited assistance from the Red Cross in a lobby across the street. Early Wednesday morning, some of those residents with special needs were taken by the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation to another building in the city.
Residents say firefighters did an amazing job. They described firefighters on the top floors running through the hallways with fire hoses in the smoke as residents were escaping down the same hallway. They believe lives were saved.
No firefighters were hurt during the fire.