Update: Massive fire burns Pier 29 structure on San Francisco waterfront 

A four-alarm fire destroyed three-quarters of Pier 29 on Wednesday afternoon, halting traffic along the busy Embarcadero corridor and causing a historic archway to tumble to the sidewalk.

Click on the photo to see more. Scroll down to see video of the fire at Pier 29.

The building — known as a shed — was vacant, said Port of San Francisco Executive Director Monique Moyer. But some space was being used for storage during construction work on the neighboring Pier 27 in preparation for the America’s Cup race, and Pier 29 was expected to be used in some capacity for the regatta.

The exact cause of the fire is under investigation, said Fire Department Lt. Mindy Talmadge, noting that initial reports indicated welding might have been going on at the building.

There were no injuries and the fire is not considered suspicious at this time, Talmadge said.

The blaze was first reported at 1:50 p.m. When firefighters arrived at the scene, Talmadge said, the entire roof was fully engulfed in flames. The fire burned for more than two hours.

Flames shot high above the building and black smoke billowed across the Bay. Muni’s historic F-Market line was stopped due to the blaze, forcing thousands of commuters and tourists to walk from the Ferry Building to The Embarcadero. Large crowds gathered to watch the action.

The fire is not expected to affect construction work related to the America’s Cup race, said both the Port and race spokeswoman Amelise Javier. Turner Construction Co., in contract with the Port, was housed in the building, Javier said in a statement.

A small portion of Pier 29 was expected to be used for spectator seating and food concessions during the 2013 international regatta. Pier 29 also is the site of the new cruise ship terminal expected to be completed by 2014.

Telegraph Hill Dwellers President Jon Golinger said he’s never seen anything like Wednesday’s fire in the 12 years he’s lived in the neighborhood.

“It’s sad,” he said. “This has been the heart of the northeastern waterfront for many years. We’ve been fighting to preserve it, only to lose it to a fire.”

The building and pier were built in 1915, Moyer said. At the time, the Renaissance-style façade was created to compete with the Port of New York for big cargo.

The overall structure of the pier was considered “sound” compared to others in The City. Port officials were hopeful the infrastructure remains intact, but said an inspection must be performed.

What did not remain intact, however, was the bulkhead displaying “Pier 29.” Less than an hour into the fire, the gigantic piece of concrete fell from the front of the building and crumbled to pieces on the sidewalk.

“It’s too soon to tell, but if we can refurbish the façade in historical resemblance, there should be no impact to the America’s Cup other than the unsightly building,” Moye said.

Due to the age and wood composition of the structure, Talmadge said firefighters primarily defensively attacked the blaze in order to keep it from spreading.

The last time the Port experienced a massive fire was in 1996, when a five-alarm blaze ravaged Pier 48. There also were no injuries in that fire. akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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