The fire broke out in the south tower of the complex. Flames tore through five floors of the 25-story building, floors 12-16.
It's unclear what started the fire, but it spread fast, sending black smoke over San Francisco's Financial District. Firefighters took the stairs and raced up to the middle section of the Gateway high-rise with their equipment, then battled the flames floor by floor. Building residents who were outside when the fire started watched in horror.
"It was on the opposite side of where my apartment was but I thought it would spread into the entire building," said Arnold Benson, a Gateway tenant since 2011.
Tenants on the floors above the fire sheltered in place, while the lower floors were evacuated. The danger went beyond the building as well. Debris scattered below and firefighters had to get out of the way. But within 45 minutes, the fire was under control.
"High-rise fires are a potential nightmare and this one went exactly as it should. Nobody hurt," said San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin.
The three-alarm fire broke out on the same day the chief announced her retirement. She says the fact that it started just after 5pm worked to their advantage.
"Time of day, maybe there's not as many people home as there would be at night or early morning but still a challenge and they got on it right away and within 45 minutes we had it under control," said Hayes-White.
Five floors of the south tower are now gutted, but building residents are thankful everyone's safe.
"There are only two elevators, the building is 25 stories high and two small staircases," said Benson.
According to Supervisor Aaron Peskin, floors 3-8 and all floors above 21 have been repopulated. Floors 12 and 13 will not be repopulated before Tuesday. Floors 14-20 will be repopulated through the night.
Firefighters had to punch holes through walls, which exposed asbestos.
The San Francisco Fire Department says while no one suffered any physical injuries, nine people were treated for smoke inhalation and anxiety.
Crews expected to be on scene for hours. An evacuation center was set up in the Embarcadero Hyatt hotel. Residents from 30 units were displaced by the fire. The city is also opening up an emergency shelter with the Red Cross at the Salvation Army Chinatown Corps on Powell Street.
Residents unaffected by the fire may be allowed back into the building at midnight.
SFFD says 7 people treated for smoke inhalation and anxiety and at least 9 people have been displaced by the Gateway fire, but that (second) number is expected to grow bc of smoke and water damage. pic.twitter.com/vJSZthcTu7— Kate Larsen (@KateABC7) October 23, 2018
Here’s the scene right now at the Gateway apartments and townhomes in SF. Dozens of firefighters, including the fire chief, are here. We’re told nobody was hurt. Many evacuated after three alarm fire. pic.twitter.com/TQnQF9HNKI— Kate Larsen (@KateABC7) October 23, 2018
#102218WF1 UPDATE THANK YOU TO THE @Hyatt embarcadero for opening your doors for our temporary reunification and displaced services center @RedCrossBayArea @AaronPeskin @LondonBreed @SF_emergency pic.twitter.com/tAUBwr7Ob3— San Francisco Fire (@sffdpio) October 23, 2018
San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White announces retirement today. Then heads directly from my interview with her to a big fire burning in the financial district right now. pic.twitter.com/U1DI2FtdUU— Kate Larsen (@KateABC7) October 23, 2018