San Francisco fire investigators on Wednesday were looking into whether welding work was to blame for a massive blaze that barreled through an apartment building construction site, threatening nearby buildings, prompting evacuations and forcing officials to call in about half The City’s on-duty firefighters to prevent its spread.
As fire crews doused hot spots in the charred remains of the blocklong apartment complex, city officials said they narrowly avoided a catastrophe in an up-and-coming neighborhood near AT&T Park.
“I think we’re very lucky that the fire didn’t jump any more,” Mayor Ed Lee said.
The exact cause of the fire — one of The City’s largest in recent years — was under investigation. But fire officials were looking into preliminary reports that workers were doing torch work at the site shortly before the fire was reported around 5 p.m. Tuesday, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said.
The five-alarm fire created a plume of black smoke that was visible for miles and led to the evacuation of nearby buildings, as about 150 firefighters were called in to contain it. One of the walls of the burning building collapsed about an hour after the fire began.
The blaze cracked windows on an apartment building across the street, Strata at Mission Bay, and sent an ember onto the roof of a UC San Francisco building in the neighborhood. It also briefly spread to scaffolding at another building under construction, Maguire said.
Lee said about 30 nearby residential units had to be evacuated, leaving those residents and their pets temporarily displaced. Fire Department Lt. Mindy Talmadge said most of the evacuated residents live at the Strata at Mission Bay apartments, and all have been able to find temporary housing on their own.
Two firefighters suffered minor injuries. One of them suffered burns while battling the fire from above.
Fire officials did not have an exact estimate on the damage Wednesday, but they said the entire six-story building was considered a loss. The burned building was part of a residential development project with 172 units, according to BRE Properties, the building’s owner.