Investigators try to pinpoint cause of Masonic fire

January 2, 2012 7:16:38 PM PST
Investigators are looking for the cause of a devastating fire in San Francisco. They now know where it started, but they're still trying to figure out how. The fire broke out just after 8 p.m. and badly damaged two houses on Masonic Avenue.

Investigators say it started in the back of an alleyway between two homes. Arson investigators were called in, but that is standard procedure for any fire that is two alarms or greater.

This winter San Francisco firefighters have been kept extremely busy this winter and the Masonic fire was just one of the many fires they have responded to. Monday morning, there was a yet another fire. That was on the 600 block of Brannan Street at the Flower Mart. Fortunately, it was small and contained to one of the businesses at the sprawling complex.

"This has been one of our busiest winters in a few years in my recollection," said San Francisco Asst. Chief Mike Morris.

Monday's blaze came on the heels of a far more dangerous one Sunday night on Masonic Avenue. Nine people were driven from their homes by the fire. The first alarm was reported at 8:10 p.m. It took 100 firefighters 40 minutes to bring the three alarm blaze under control. Two wood frame homes were badly burned. A third building had minor damage in the attic. The fire department now believes the blaze started in a lightwell in the back of this narrow pathway between the two homes that were badly damaged.

Bonnie Lake of Hawaii was visiting her daughter who lives on the same block. She said, "You could see the flames. They were going up 15 to 20 feet in the air and sparks, you know like if you had a bonfire at the beach, the sparks were flying all over the place."

The sparks rained on Robin Tomes home, the one that had minor attic damaged, but her roof never caught on fire.

"It got hot but it didn't ignite," said Tomes.

From Tomes' third floor window, you can see the charred remains of the back of her neighbor's home. That's how close the flames came. Tomes Counts her blessings. She put in a fire resistant roof just nine months ago.

"They specialize in a product that endure forever and I think that's why they call it 'CE DUR'. And it looks like cedar," said Tomes.

"The last several years, we haven't had this many major alarms," said Morris.

Fire officials say they were fortunate the winds were not as strong as those which fueled a five-alarm blaze in the Western Addition December 22nd -- a fire that tore through two residential buildings, displacing about 60 people.