Two die in fire that ravages Russian Hill restaurant

The burned bodies of two men lay dead in a loft above a Polk Street Indian restaurant for several hours Thursday morning because of the instability of the structure caused by a single-alarm fire, according to San Francisco fire officials.

The bodies of the two men, who were employees of the Star of India Restaurant at 2127 Polk St., were not removed until noon, although the fire ripped through the building at about 5:30 a.m., fire officials said.

Apparently having slept in the restaurants’ loft area, the two men died after the early-morning fire sparked in the eatery’s kitchen.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, Lt. Ken Smith of the San Francisco Fire Department said.

At 5:38 a.m., firefighters responded to heavy smoke at Polk Street and Broadway, only to discover the thick black smoke coming from the Star of India several doors from the corner, said Laura Kelly, a fire chief’s aide at the scene.

The single-alarm fire was under control 20 minutes later when the bodies were discovered, Smith said. A firefighter fell through the floor of the loft, forcing the Fire Department to call in a specialized unit to stabilize the structure before the bodies could be removed by the Medical Examiner’s Office, according to fire officials.

Many businesses have small loft spaces and use them in a variety of ways, San Francisco fire Lt. Mindy Talmadge said.

Khanh Ly, owner of The Bagelry, which is located next to the Star of India, said her business uses the space for simple storage. Another business in the area had its office and a computer in its space, Talmadge added.

The Star of India had recently changed ownership and the new owners were renovating the restaurant but stayed open for business, according to Ly and others familiar with the restaurant.

Smoke from the fire and water from the effort to extinguish the flames damaged neighboring restaurants — all part of one larger building and sharing a common attic — along the popular Russian Hill corridor.

dsmith@examiner.com

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