A 3-alarm fire gutted an auto business in San Francisco’s Inner Mission and triggered the evacuation of a nearby apartment complex early Sunday, according to firefighters.
The fire was first reported at 7:45 a.m. in the vicinity of Shotwell and 16th streets. The Rolling Stock tire shop, located at 2860 16th St., was not open at the time, police said.
Flames from the shop spread to an apartment building next door, prompting officials to empty the complex. Seventeen adults, four children and one pet were initially asked to take shelter at the 76 gas station.
Officials said residents who awoke to the fire also helped alert their neighbors to the blaze by pounding on nearby doors.
"My folks were the ones knocking on doors next to us," said Oscar Lepe, who evacuated with his family. "By the time they were out, we came out. People next door have been here for 20 years. My family’s been there for 40 years. We know everybody."
More than 100 firefighters battled the flames, but were unable to prevent the complex’s roof from collapsing, officials said.
People in the East Bay and Marin County reported seeing thick plumes of smoke. But onlookers were advised to leave the scene due to the acrid smoke, which could cause serious lung damage, according to officials.
"The smoke is rubber and magnesium," the city’s Assistant Fire Chief Dave Franklin said. "People shouldn’t get close."
At around 10 a.m., the Red Cross opened up an evacuation center at 520 South Van Ness Avenue for residents impacted by the flames. The set up will be there to assist families for "a few days to a few weeks," said Red Cross official John Laxson.
Though the fire is now contained, tenants are worried that they may never be able to return to their homes. Some fear that developers will swoop in and snatch up the property.
"Once you see something come down, there’s going to be people licking their chops, saying, 'What can we build?'" Lepe said. "It’s a big enough block – they can build whatever they want to build on it."
No fire-related injuries have been reported, police said, adding that the cause of the blaze is still being investigated.
NBC Bay Area's Chuck Coppola contributed to this report.