Displaced Bernal Heights residents take stock after the smoke clears

Tavey Soy, 23, thought the burning smell was a barbecue down the hall.

Her husband, Joseph Williams, 26, suspected it was much worse. Indeed it was.

The Bernal Heights blaze scorched six buildings Saturday afternoon. The five-alarm fire billowed plumes of smoke which could be seen blocks away.

Soy grabbed her 1-year-old son Joseph, her backpack and her tablet, and escaped down the stairs of her home. Her neighbor, Hipolito Paul Miranda, 59, confronted the smoke with Soy’s husband.

A former Marine, Miranda kept his cool.

“We were telling all the neighbors, ‘Get out! Get out!’” Miranda said.

In the community kitchen down the hall, he said the smoke shot through the wall “like someone was sending smoke signals.”

Williams tried a fire extinguisher, to no avail. The smoke kept pouring through.

Outside, Soy called out for her husband. Then she waited. And waited.

Finally Williams made it to the sidewalk. “He was covered in dust and debris,” Soy said.

Flames licked out of windows along Mission and 29th streets until Saturday evening.

The San Francisco Fire Department contained that night, and it was finally fully extinguished by 6:35 a.m. Sunday, according to the department.

No one died in the fire, but Miranda, Soy, Williams, their 1-year-old son Joseph, and 54 others lost their homes.

Small businesses, like the 3300 Club, were displaced as well.

“I’m grateful there hasn’t been any loss of life, but I know finding housing for these folks is going to be a challenge,” said Supervisor David Campos, whose district includes Bernal Heights and the Mission.

Right now, those without somewhere else to go will stay at the Salvation Army. Upstairs, Soy fished a diaper out of a bag of donations, fresh and ready for young Joseph Williams-Soy. The toddler smiled bright as he crawled onto his mother’s lap for changing.

Volunteers from the Red Cross and Salvation Army hovered nearby, offering food, counseling and more.

Still, their housing future is uncertain, Soy said, as neither she nor her husband have family nearby.

Down the hall, 30 cots laid out underneath two basketball hoops.

That basketball court is home, for now.

Multiple efforts to support families displaced by the fire are underway.

As of 4:45 p.m. Sunday, a Go Fund Me page called “Support Mission Fire Families” raised $15,650, well past its $12,000 goal. The page was started by Edwin Lindo, one of the “Frisco 5” hunger strikers who called for former San Francisco Police Department Chief Greg Suhr’s removal.

Lindo also ran for District 9 supervisor but recently ended his campaign.

A live-edited online document also spread around the internet, detailing what goods the displaced families need donated. That online Google Document was started by 48Hills reporter Sana Saleem, who is running the donation page along with her husband, William Fitzgerald.

“I just saw something was needed,” she said.

By evening Sunday, so many donations arrived that the fire victims had to give some away, said John McKnight, director of emergency disaster services for the Salvation Army.

He spoke to the San Francisco Examiner while standing in the basement of a Salvation Army at Valencia and 22nd streets, in a room filled to the brim with clothes. McKnight advised those who want to help victims to send gift cards instead — that way they can get goods once they have a permanent place to keep them.

Caitlin Rink was one of those donating to the families who lost their homes to the fire. Rink works in real estate, her husband works at a startup and they have a 2-year old daughter. Though they’ve lived in the Mission less than a year she’s already seen multiple blazes in her community.

Sunday morning, Rink arrived at the Salvation Army with bags of t-shirts, diapers, wipes, toothbrushes and toiletries to the families.

“I just feel sad. We want to help with anything we can,” she said.

Hillary Ronen, an aide to Supervisor David Campos who is also running for supervisor, said many groups and businesses from the Mission and Bernal Heights offered to pitch in as well.

Even though many fundraising hurdles and immediate needs are being met, Ronen said, the next challenge is a big one: finding the victims new homes.

“We have such good people in our community, and they’re being pushed out,” she said.

The Board of Supervisors will consider funding to aid those displaced by fires in its next budget talks on Thursday, she said.

Miranda, the resident, spoke to the Examiner in the hallway just outside the children’s playroom where Joseph squealed.

The veteran said he has faith The City of his birth, San Francisco, will take care of him and the other victims.

A devout Catholic, he shrugged and said, “Good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to good people.”

Then for the first time since flames consumed his home, he walked back to the basketball court to his cot, to sleep.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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