SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Thousands of homes in San Francisco’s outer Richmond, outer Sunset and Bayview/Hunters Point neighborhoods are extremely vulnerable to devastating fires triggered by a major earthquake, a report from the city’s grand jury revealed Tuesday.

According to the civil grand jury, a seismically-safe high-pressure Auxiliary Water Supply System has not been put in place in those neighborhoods to fight a major fire following a large quake.

During the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, fires claimed several lives and buildings as they burned out of control in San Francisco’s Marina District. Water from fire boats and portable water tenders prevented the devastation from being even greater.

In the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, much of the city was consumed by out-of-control fires in the hours and days following the major temblor. Over 3,000 people died and approximately 28,000 buildings were destroyed.

“We know the question is when, not if, another major earthquake will strike San Francisco and ignite numerous fires,” the grand jury wrote in its conclusions.

“The Civil Grand Jury believes it is essential that we take prompt and aggressive action to expand and enhance our defenses against the inevitable fires following an earthquake before it is too late,” the grand jury continued. “All parts of the City – north and south, east and west, rich and poor, downtown and residential neighborhoods – deserve to be well protected against this catastrophic risk.”

The grand jury cited a 2010 report on San Francisco’s earthquake readiness which found the city’s densely packed neighborhoods enhanced the fire threat.

“In San Francisco, over 90 percent of buildings are constructed from wood, many of them directly touching their neighbor buildings,” the report found. “Earthquakes in places with this type of construction have caused the two largest peacetime urban fires in history: in 1906 in San Francisco and in 1923 in Tokyo.”

The civil grand jury makes the following recommendations, among others:

  • The City should be prepared to fight fires in all parts of the City in the event of a repeat of a 1906 size earthquake
  • The City should aggressively develop a high-pressure, multi-sourced, seismically safe emergency water supply for those parts of the City that don’t currently have one, with a target completion date of no later than 2034
  • As an interim measure, the City should immediately replace and expand its inventory of Portable Water Supply System (PWSS) hose tenders, which are comparatively cheap, can be acquired much more quickly than the high-pressure AWSS, and were essential in fighting the 1989 Loma Prieta fire.
  • The new hose tenders should be strategically placed in those areas of the City that do not have a high-pressure, multi-sourced, seismically safe emergency water supply.
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