SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — It was a long night for San Francisco firefighters who remained at the scene early Wednesday and continued to pour water on the firein Mission Bay that destroyed a large under-construction apartment building Tuesday evening.
The project on the west side of Fourth Street between China Basin and Mission Rock, near AT&T Park, is expected to be a total loss. Officials said the structure would likely fully collapse on its own, but a contractor has been called in to develop a plan to safely take down the building. There is no timeline for that project, and a perimeter will be kept up around the building indefinitely.
On Wednesday, occasional flames were visible through a fine curtain of mist created by the water blowing in wind along with falling debris and shards of glass on Fourth Street.
San Francisco Deputy Fire Chief Mark Gonzales said the building had partially collapsed on itself, but that there was concern about the scaffolding on the outside coming down as well. Some residents in surrounding buildings were still under evacuation orders because those buildings do not have fire protection in them. An estimated 30 units will be uninhabitable for an indefinite amount of time.
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“Some of those buildings on the Fourth Street, their exterior sprinklers were activated during the fire, so we can’t get in there to replace them,” Gonzalez said. “A lot fire protection is off in those buildings.”
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said at a news conference at the scene Wednesday morning that the cause of the fire remains under investigation, but noted that it started above ground.
“They were doing some welding, we don’t know what occurred there,” Lee said.
Officials said investigators would be reviewing helicopter footage of the fire to get a better sense of how it started and spread. Chopper 5 was rolling Tuesday night at a portion of the building collapsed:
The five-alarm fire was reported at about 4:56 p.m. on Tuesday and required 150 firefighters to control.
BRE Properties, which focuses on development, acquisition and management of apartment communities in California and Seattle, said the fire occurred at Block 5 of its MB360 development project.
“I think we’re very lucky that the fire didn’t jump any more,” the mayor said.
Lee said he sent a text message to Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White when he saw embers from the fire floating over to a University of California at San Francisco building about a block away.
Hayes-White said, “He personally let me know that he saw a burning ember shift over to the UCSF property and we needed to take care of that.”
The ember ignited some landscaping on that building’s roof but the small blaze was quickly put out with the help of building maintenance crews, he said.
Hayes-White said about half of the city’s firefighters responded to the fire, and called their efforts a “phenomenal display of teamwork.”
She said one firefighter suffered burns to his face early on but continued battling the blaze, receiving treatment later for his injuries, which were minor.
“Our objective last night, which we were able to achieve, was to contain the fire to the building of origin,” she said.
Gonzales said that one firefighter suffered burns on his hands and face while battling the blaze Tuesday.
“He was one of the initial [firefighters] on the scene, on one of our trucks, and when we were first going to try an interior attack, they were putting a ladder pipe to what they thought was a fire just on the roof area. He got a little burned up there but he didn’t cop to it until about four or five hours later,” he said.
Gonzales said the injured firefighter was expected to make a full recovery. It was revealed that a second firefighter suffered minor injuries overnight.
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The nine-story building was expected to house some 360 apartment units, reportedly priced at $630,000 each, in an overall waterfront development worth $227 million.
Hayes-White said crews will be at the scene “as long as it takes” to put the fire out.
“It’s likely to collapse. I’m not a structural engineer, but given the amount of fire damage and water being applied, it weakens the structure even further,” said chief Joanne Hayes-White.
She said the fire department has been in touch with the developer, and that eventually heavy equipment will be brought in and the building will be dismantled.