Plumes of thick, black smoke and flames shot out of the roof of the 48-unit residential hotel as the first alarm went out at 5:24 p.m. Residents say they rushed to evacuate the building; many say smoke and fire alarms did not go off inside the building. There was a sprinkler system that did work during the fire.
By 6:30 p.m., a fourth alarm had been called and dozens of fire units had swarmed the scene. When timbers started falling, there were fears for the firefighters' safety and the fire chief made the decision to evacuate the area.
Crews then attacked the fire from ladder trucks as the flames spread to a nearby business and damaged six flats in an adjacent apartment building.
An army of fire fighters stayed at the scene well into the evening. In all, 110 firefighters battled the blaze. At one point there were rumors of a missing firefighter, but all were eventually accounted for.
Residents speculated about how the fire may have started. One said he heard someone was barbequing and may have thrown bourbon onto the grill. The San Francisco Fire Department's arson team is investigating the source of the fire.
"This just went up like a match, it was fast," resident Daniel Minna said. "No one had time to grab anything at all. Most people had to abandon their stuff. Some tenants were crying because they had to be forced out of their rooms."
The Park Hotel is a housing complex for low-income residents. Only one resident had to be hospitalized, an elderly resident who suffered smoke inhalation. The rest of the evacuees were camped out across the street at Columbia Square Park. Most residents barely had time to get out with the clothes on their backs. Others grabbed beloved pets. One woman and her daughters managed to save their two parakeets.
The Red Cross was still searching late last night to find individual housing for 78 single residents. The city set up a temporary shelter at the Gene Friend Recreation Center a block away from the fire.
Early Thursday morning a Chihuahua was found by firefighters checking for hotspots.
"He was up in kind of a closet area upstairs. He found a little place to hide," said Fred Putt of the San Francisco Fire Department.
"How close was he to the flames?" asked ABC7's Terry McSweeney.
"He was really close to it. What the chief determined - it seemed like he was right at the center" said Putt.
The dog was taken to a shelter until its owners could be found.