Pier 29 along the Embarcadero at Chestnut Street, where the old Teatro ZinZanni theater and dinner house used to be located, was the site of the fire. By 5 p.m., authorities were not saying the fire was under control, but contained, meaning they were still taking care of hot spots inside, but did not expect any fire to spread to other buildings.
The call came in around 1:50 p.m. and firefighters soon had their hands full. The fire quickly punched through the roof forcing crews off the roof and out of the building. They soon realized the fire was getting a hold of the large empty mostly wood-framed building. They began by attacking the flames from the roof, but within a half hour of their decision that it was too dangerous to stay there, chunks of the façade began crashing down to the sidewalk and street below.
About 150 firefighters surrounded the building and in San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White's words, "tried to drown the fire with huge volumes of water" including water drafted from the Bay. The Port of San Francisco says the building dates from 1915 and is made mostly from wood. The roof fire was billowing toxic creosote smoke.
"You can see the façade has given way, so the incident commander, he did a very good job assessing the vulnerability of the structure and established what we call a 'collapse zone' to make sure that there was no one in front of the building and sure enough, parts of the façade did give way," Hayes-White said.
The Port says there are no tenants in the building which was being emptied out for use by the America's Cup event next summer. There are conflicting reports about whether or not welding or plumbing work was going on at the time the fire started. The fire department says it will have to investigate those reports. The arson team, a combination of personnel from the fire department and the police department, were on scene, although an SFFD spokesperson did say there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the fire.
Construction for the America's Cup race is a huge project, but those in charge say they are confident it will be finished in time. "Based on information available at this time, we do not anticipate that this will have any impact on our plans for the site and we look forward to moving ahead with the future construction of the America's Cup Village at Pier 27/29," said America's Cup spokesperson Jane Eagleson.
"There is no loss. The cruise ship terminal project will remain on time and on budget. I'm happy to tell you we will be putting up the steel here in a couple of weeks," said Port of San Francisco Executive Director Monique Moyer said. "The America's Cup event will be happening here in 2013 as the America's Cup Village and there should be no impacts from this other than an unsightly façade."
The commotion caused gridlock on the Embarcadero in the heart of San Francisco's tourist district. The Embarcadero was shut down in both directions between Bay St. to Sansome St. Cyclists and pedestrians could be seen walking around but the roadway, a main track for both tourists and commuters, was completely closed off to automobiles. Muni's F Line was also blocked between the Ferry building and Fisherman's Wharf.
As rush hour neared, the traffic situation grew chaotic with motorists being diverted off the waterfront and onto Broadway and Battery Streets, making the interior city streets a mess. There were citywide reports of backups on streets leading out of San Francisco. The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management said the Embarcadero would remain closed between Bay and Broadway in both direction until midnight.