Hundreds of onlookers stared up at flames shooting from two buildings in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood as firefighters worked to extinguish the three-alarm blaze this evening.
The fire broke out at the three-story Park Hotel, a residential hotel at 1040 Folsom St., but the flames spread to the third story of an adjacent building on Russ Street.
At 6 p.m. the fire appeared to be intensifying, with flames shooting out of the building's roof and dark smoke billowing over Folsom Street.
Firefighters were on another section of the roof putting water on the fire and used chainsaws to cut a hole in the top of the building.
At least four wooden ladders were propped against the Park Hotel while firefighters worked to rescue occupants from the burning building.
Dark, yellowish smoke billowed from the Park Hotel, which had shattered windows. The smoke turned whiter in color as firefighters doused the flames.
Although police later taped off the area to usher onlookers to a safer distance, early on in the response, the crowd gathering near the intersection of Folsom and Russ streets could wander within 10 feet of the building in the path of the smoke.
One resident of the building on Russ Street, Danielle, who declined to give her last name, was home with her roommate and cat when the fire broke out next door.
"I saw it happen. I was in my kitchen. It hit our staircase," she said. "When it hit our staircase, I had to shut the door because the smoke started billowing up."
She said that she believed the fire started on the ground floor of the Park Hotel and that she initially believed they were safe in their apartment.
"I thought it would be OK," she said, but she suddenly realized the building was burning down and that they had to escape. Although she grabbed her roommate, there was no time to find her cat.
"I wish I could get my cat," she said. At least one person who was on a stretcher and was being prepared to be transported by an ambulance appeared to have sustained injuries.
Another responding firefighter was also being treated for what appeared like smoke inhalation.
Fire spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge was not immediately available for comment. The American Red Cross is assisting displaced residents.