Man runs into blaze to save friend's dog 

A man who rushed into a burning apartment to save his friend’s dog suffered life-threatening burns to more than 70 percent of his body after walking down a flight of stairs that was fully engulfed in flames early on Tuesday.

The man — who was not identified by fire officials, but who neighbors knew only as Michael — was housesittingfor tenant Janette Gerl, who was away on business, neighbors said.

The fire broke out just after 2:30 a.m. in the entryway of 33 and 35 Bonita St., according to tenant Dave Desaulniers, who occupies the lower unit of the Russian Hill duplex. Desaulniers and his fiancée, Margaret Corley, escaped through the back door after Corley woke up to find the steps and entryway in the front of the house ablaze, Desaulniers said.

Even though the entryway was fully ablaze, the housesitter used the front door, he said.

"He’s familiar with the place and we don’t understand why he didn’t go through the back door," Desaulniers said, who said he is acquainted with the housesitter. "We didn’t see him, just heard him screaming."

The housesitter initially escaped the flames through the front door, but ran back into the house to rescue Gerl’s Yorkshire terrier, Bobby, fire officials reported. When he left the house for the second time, he apparently walked through the blaze.

"He was in shock. He was all pink," neighbor Jennifer Lamorgese said. She said Michael’s feet were bloody and his hair singed after he walked through the flames with the dog.

Apparently in shock, he paced the front of the burning duplex as the dog ran off and residents waited for firefighters to arrive. "He kept on saying, ‘I went back in to get the dog,’" Lamorgese said.

Firefighters and paramedics arrived within five minutes, Desaulniers said. Paramedics transported the burned man to San Francisco General Hospital with life-threatening injuries, Lt. Mindy Talmadge said Tuesday.

Bobby, who also suffered burns during the ordeal, made his way to the house of a friend of Gerl’s where he had previously visited, said another friend of Gerl’s who didn’t want to be named.

While firefighters have not officially identified the cause of the blaze, Talmadge said it did center in the entryway. Neighbors said it started outside, and the charred area seemed to indicate that the fire emanated from a space to the left of the stairs where Desaulniers said garbage cans are kept for pickup. Garbage on the one-block street is normally picked up on Tuesdays, and Desaulniers said there were three full garbage cans in the space Monday night.

amartin@examiner.com

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