Authorities are calling a three-alarm fire that injured 20 people in a six-story Tenderloin building Tuesday suspicious, saying a trash compacter on the basement floor of the residential hotel somehow exploded.
The three-alarm fire broke out at the 105-unit Franciscan Towers at 201 Eddy St. around 8:30 a.m. Fire and smoke traveled up a garbage chute and spread throughout the six-story building, police said.
“We don't know if it's arson or non-criminal,” police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said Wednesday.
Six of the 20 injured were transported to a hospital Tuesday night with non-life-threatening injuries, officials said.
Fransiscan Towers houses 113 low-income residents, along with an after-school program serving more than 200 children annually, according to the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation.
All tenants have been accounted for and have been temporarily relocated, TNDC said in a statement Wednesday.
Damage estimates are not yet in, though Fire Department Deputy Chief of Operations Pat Gardner said he would not be surprised if the damage cost exceeded $1 million.
“All six floors have fire damage,” Gardner said. “Most of the damage is on the sixth floor and in the attic, and there is also significant water damage from the sprinklers and fire hoses.”
A call reporting the fire near Taylor and Eddy streets came in at 8:53 p.m., according to fire dispatchers. Firefighters contained the blaze at 10:11 p.m.
It was not immediately clear how many people were evacuated from the building.
A store clerk at a nearby business, Daldas Grocery at 200 Eddy St., said he watched the action from inside the business, and said he counted five fire trucks at about 9:25 p.m. in front of the building that was billowing smoke.
He said he “saw some flames that appeared to be coming from the top of the building” and that “lots of people” had been standing outside on the blocked-off road.
“They’ve been evacuating people from the emergency exits,” he said.
People in downtown San Francisco near the Metreon, at Fourth and Mission streets, which is about six blocks away, reported an unusual burning smell and lingering smog and smoke.
American Red Cross Spokesman Jim Mallory said that the agency had set up an evacuation center directly across the street at 230 Eddy St.
As of 10:50 p.m., 50 people were at the center, he said, although the response team had not yet determined how many of those displaced residents would need accommodations for the night.
Bay City News contributed to this report.