Mission building landlord says fire alarm worked properly as of last inspection 

click to enlarge One man — 36-year-old Mauricio Orellano — died and six were injured while 40 people and several businesses were displaced in Wednesday’s fire at 22nd and Mission streets. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • One man — 36-year-old Mauricio Orellano — died and six were injured while 40 people and several businesses were displaced in Wednesday’s fire at 22nd and Mission streets.

Guillermo Montesinos was working on a client's taxes in his second-floor office suite at 22nd and Mission streets on Wednesday evening when he heard a commotion outside. He went downstairs to open the door, where he met a crew of firefighters who yelled at him to get out of the building.

That — and not by an alarm — was how Montesinos learned that his building was on fire, he told The San Francisco Examiner on Thursday.

"There was no fire alarm, nothing," Montesinos said.

Fire investigators have not yet identified the cause of Wednesday's four-alarm blaze that killed one person, injured six and displaced 40 residents along with over a dozen additional merchants, including a Popeyes and several other restaurants inside the Mission Mall commercial space.

Witnesses and neighbors identified the man who died as Mauricio Orellano, 36, a resident of an upstairs apartment unit.

City officials could not say when the building, which was still smoldering Thursday morning, would be reopened to tenants to retrieve belongings.

Meanwhile, fire officials are investigating claims from Montesinos and other tenants that no fire alarms sounded prior to firefighters' arrival on-scene at about 6:45 p.m., according to Lt. Mindy Talmadge.

The building's fire-alarm control panel had been checked and declared fit a year ago, but the panel's annual certification was set to expire at midnight Wednesday, five hours after the fire began, Talmadge said.

There's no timetable as to when a cause of the fire might be identified, she said.

The fire is believed to have begun in a top-floor apartment unit, Montesinos said.

Landlord Hawk Lou, who owns other properties along the Mission Street corridor, told The San Francisco Examiner on Thursday that the certification's expiration was a tragic "coincidence" and that the fire alarm was tested and worked properly as of its last inspection on Jan. 28, 2014.

"It was working ... I cannot explain" why residents said they heard no alarms, said Lou, who provided a copy of his inspection form from Tom Jue & Co., a certified alarm company.

Fire-alarm control panels are not inspected by the Fire Department but by private companies who receive certification from The City and the state.

Lou did say that it's possible someone could have tampered with the panel.

"There's a lot of vandalism in the area," he said, which might have compromised the panel.

Problems with the building's fire safety had been recorded in the past.

Residents in 2010 complained to the Department of Building Inspection that the fire alarm was not working and that fire extinguishers were not in their proper places, according to records.

That prompted an inspection from city officials, who declared the building free of violations in November 2010, said William Strawn, a spokesman for the department.

Some residents also told fire officials that fire escapes were blocked or obstructed during the blaze. However, all rooms in the building had windows that were operable, Talmadge said.

Built in 1907, the three-story, 12-residential unit building housed mostly Spanish-speaking, rent-controlled tenants as well as professional offices, retail, restaurants, and the offices of Mission Local, a local-news website.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Bio:
Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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