Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mission Bay Fire: Welding Equipment Likely Cause of Five-Alarm Blaze

Posted By on Wed, Mar 12, 2014 at 3:04 PM

Time lapse video via Jake Durrett/YouTube

Hot welding equipment, left to smolder in yesterday's hot sun, is the most-likely culprit behind the massive five-alarm fire yesterday which consumed a Mission Bay apartment complex under construction.

Fire crews were still dumping water on the (formerly) 176-unit mixed-use building south of AT&T Park as of 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, according to Fire Department spokeswoman Lt. Mindy Talmadge.

Investigators could name the cause of the fire -- which began shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday on the "eighth or ninth" floor of the wood-frame building -- as soon as this evening, Talmadge said.

No major injuries were reported, despite this fire, the first five-alarm blaze in San Francisco since 2012, being notable for generating massive amounts of heat.

Aerial views of the fire today revealed that some flames are still smoldering, Talmadge said, though the conflagration has been declared contained. A total of 150 firefighters and 42 vehicles responded to the fire, which could be declared quenched sometime this evening, she added. Demolition crews are already preparing to shove the twisted metal and burnt wood inwards as to allow firefighters to get closer to the point of origin and other lingering hotspots, she said. No arson or other foul play appears to be at hand. Work at the 176-unit apartment and retail complex, owned by BRE Properties, had finished for the day, though a few workers were still on-site when the fire broke out, Talmadge said. "It wasn't a huge mystery," she said. "We could see where the area of origin was when we arrived." After discovering the building of origin would be a total loss, firefighters employed a tactic called "wall of water" to ensure that the flames wouldn't spread to nearby buildings, Talmadge said. Nonetheless, the intense heat created by the fire -- fueled as it was by nine stories' worth of wood, with no sprinkler systems installed -- blew out windows in a nearby building. About thirty apartment units in the building next door were rendered uninhabitable, but since all residents had somewhere else to go, nobody was technically "displaced," she said. The last five-alarm fire in San Francisco was when an apartment building on Pierce Street in the Western Addition caught fire in December 2012. The only two injuries were a firefighter with second-degree burns and a battalion chief with a twisted ankle. In other words: we were lucky. This was a big fire that turned bad, but could have been much, much worse. Talmadge named the Cannery fire in 2002 -- which gutted that building, also under construction, near Fisherman's Wharf -- as a comparable blaze.
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