5-Alarm Fire Consumes SF Apartment Complex

Three people were injured in the blaze Thursday.

By Lori Preuitt
|  Thursday, Dec 22, 2011  |  Updated 5:09 PM PDT
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This is raw video of the fire in San Francisco.

This is raw video of the fire in San Francisco.

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After hours of burning, firefighters finally gained control of the massive five-alarm blaze in San Francisco that caused a couple of injuries Thursday.

Heavy thick smoke billowed from the city's Western Addition neighborhood as about 140 firefighters responded to a four-story apartment complex engulfed in flames. The fire was reported at 11:53 a.m. at 1502 Golden Gate Avenue, near the intersection of Turk and Pierce Street.

One firefighter suffered minor neck burns, and a civilian is being treated for smoke inhalation, according to Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White. A dispatcher said the firefighter who suffered the burns was taken to Saint Francis Memorial Hospital.

The American Red Cross responded to the scene and has since set up an evacuation center to assist residents displaced from the roughly 30 units affected by the fire.

The evacuation center is at the Missionary Temple church at 1455 Golden Gate Ave. Residents who need housing, food or other assistance are advised to go to the evacuation center or call (888) 4-HELP-BAY.

Up to three buildings were on fire, including an old Victorian apartment complex and a Creative Arts Charter School. The school is on winter break, so no one was expected to be there.

The cause of the blaze has not been determined, but fire investigators were at the scene looking for clues late this afternoon, a dispatcher said.

Wood from the old building was the perfect fuel to feed the fire. It was also windy in San Francisco and that made fighting the fire that much more difficult.

By 12:05 p.m., the fire fully engulfed the building. It became a rare five-alarm blaze at 12:44 p.m. After more than three hours of burning, firefighters gained control just after 3 p.m.

Earlier, firefighters searched the building where the fire started except for the top floor, which was already engulfed in flames, but they were optimistic that everybody made it out, Hayes-White said.

A nearby elderly care facility was evacuated as a precaution because of the heavy smoke. Smoke from the fire was visible from a large portion of the City. One reporter on the scene said he could see the smoke from San Mateo County.

VIEW TWEETED IMAGES OF BLAZE

Helicopter video from the scene showed fire crews on the roof of the structure in the early minutes with white, gray and black smoke pouring from it. Several ladder trucks also hoisted more fire crews to the top floor of the complex.

The crews were forced to leave their posts as the flames erupted amid the heavy winds. Video also showed firefighters going down the fire escapes. Several others moved to the side of the roof where the fire had not yet spread.

"It's spreading -- the smoke is coming out of the windows, and  there's a lot of windows over there," Valerie Davison said at 12:20 p.m. "They're going to have to get help, the flames are getting  bigger."

One hour after the fire started the building was feared to be in danger of collapsing. Fire crews pulled back from certain areas of the building for a time.

Those wishing to donate to the fire victims can contact the Red Cross at (888) 4-HELP-BAY or visit www.redcrossbayarea.org.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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