Western Addition fire displaces dozens, injures three

Three people were injured and at least 70 residents were displaced Thursday after a five-alarm fire burned out of control in two residential buildings in the Western Addition neighborhood, San Francisco Fire Department officials said.

The fire was reported at 11:53 a.m. on Pierce Street near Elm Street, a narrow road between Golden Gate Avenue and Turk Street, a fire dispatcher said.

Click the picture for a map of the fire's location and more pictures.

One civilian and one firefighter were transported to the hospital for smoke inhalation. Another firefighter was treated for burns on the back of his neck, fire department Chief Joanne Hayes-White said.

The fire started in a three-story Victorian home at 1502 Golden Gate Ave., Hayes-White said. The blaze quickly spread to a large apartment building at 1015 Pierce St.

A resident from the Victorian where the blaze started said he heard an alarm go off in the school next door to his building. The school has been undergoing construction so he thought it meant nothing until a neighbor knocked on his door and told him about the fire.

Then “it was panic mode,” he said. “I don’t know what happened.”

The resident, who wished to remain anonymous, was visibly dazed. He had been just cleaning his house, he said.

Michael Pacia and his partner Richard Lenhart are managers of the building at 1015 Pierce St. Someone rang their buzzer, and yelled “fire, fire,” Pacia said. He and Lenhart then went around knocking on residents doors warning them about the fire. They then grabbed their cat and ran out.

On his way out, Pacia said he could see the fire.

“It quickly spread out our back garage area and our back exit and spread very quickly,” he said.

Angel Plascencia, 19, a resident at 1015 Pierce and San Francisco State University student, was shocked by the blaze. He stood in the street wrapped in a Red Cross blanket.

“I never thought I was ever going to experience anything like that,” Plascencia said. “I was most scared when I was on the first floor and I saw the flames.” Plascencia had been planning to go home to Stratford in Central Valley for Christmas but he said he will stay with friends while he sees what happens with his apartment.  

There was a concern for pets trapped in the building. One woman outside the building was visibly worried about her pet. A few residents were spotted with cats in boxes provided by the Red Cross.

The fire did not affect the school and no students were in attendance due to the winter break.

Flames were visible on the roof and throughout the upper floors of both buildings, and thick black and gray smoke in the air was visible for miles.

More than 100 people filled nearby streets to watch the fire.

Pierce Street was shut down between McAllister and Turk streets, and Golden Gate Avenue was closed between Scott and Steiner streets. Commuters are urged to avoid the area.

During the course of battling the blaze, firefighters were pulled off of the roof for fear of collapse. The roof is “sagging heavily,” firefighters overheard on the scanner said.

The five-alarm blaze was the first the department has face in years, Hayes-White said. It took longer than an hour and a half to contain the blaze.

An evacuation center was set up by the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter at Missionary Temple church, which is located at 1455 Golden Gate Ave.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

SF Examiner Staff Writer Amy Crawford contributed to this story.

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