SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Crews continue to deconstruct what remains of the construction fire that broke out Tuesday on the corner of Octavia Boulevard and Oak Street in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood.
The massive 4-alarm blaze destroyed an apartment building that was under construction, as well as damaged five neighboring buildings.
The source of what caused the fire has not been released by officials.
According to the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, this is not the first time a fire has happened in this area, and they have previously warned city leaders about unsheltered people igniting warming fires.
The association noted several fires that had occurred in their neighborhood from tent encampments. On March 31, a car was lit on fire near a tent encampment and on April 24, a construction site was set on fire near a tent encampment. The following day, a tent encampment was up in flames, the association said.
“Yes. I have seen, like, homeless, like putting fire on the corner. Once I saw a homeless like trying to grill food. It went out of control and I saw how the firefighters actually came to turn that off,” said one neighbor, Carolina Bias.
The association also noted a current encampment on Octavia Boulevard and Hickory Street where most of the fires have occurred. They say the people of that encampment have been tapping into power at the sidewalk utility access points and the light poles.
The association said they sent a letter to city leaders on May 30 because they were afraid something like Tuesday’s fire would eventually happen. In a letter to city leaders, the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association issued a statement that read in part:
“Our neighborhood and our city is literally being trashed and set on fire and you all are doing nothing about it. We are asking you to take these issues seriously and remove encampments that pose a danger to our community when we report them instead of throwing your hands up in the air.”
The San Francisco Fire Department said the fire ignited just before 6 a.m. “Firefighters were faced with intense heat that was hot enough to crack windows at a building across the street, scaffolding from the fire building, a fast-moving fire that could have resulted in a conflagration, a partial collapse of the fire building, and more,” SFFD wrote.
Firefighters went door-to-door to evacuate nearby buildings. The San Francisco Fire Department’s Fire Investigation Task Force is still investigating to determine what sparked the blaze.
On Wednesday, Mayor London Breed responded to critics who claim the city ignored warnings about nearby homeless encampments lighting fires.
Breed wrote, “Right now we can’t jump to conclusions and connect this nearby encampment and the fire. While there is always a rush to judge what the cause may be, we must allow our investigators to do their jobs. However, I want to address concerns raised by the neighbors about nearby encampments.”
San Francisco is legally barred from forcing homeless people out of public spaces, such as sidewalks, because of a federal judge’s order. U.S. Judge Donna Ryu’s order prevents the city from sweeping tent encampments while there is a shortage of shelter beds.
“We are working to address these encampments, but we are under a federal injunction that limits our ability to move tents, even when people refuse shelter. For example, our HSOC team led 5 multi-day operations in the last 6 months. They successfully connected 12 people into shelter, but others did not accept,” the mayor wrote.
The city’s homeless population is estimated to be 8,000 people.
“We can’t force people to accept or stay in shelter and we’re unable to prevent people from setting up an encampment in area that was just cleaned. This is the situation we are in. As long as there are encampments, there’s a risk that conditions like this will persist. We will do everything we can, within the law, to address that,” the mayor wrote.
Jennifer Laska, president Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, said Supervisor Dean Preston held a community meeting in June. “He made a very specific point to say, ‘I don’t see encampments as a public safety issue, it’s a public health issue,'” Laska said.
Preston’s office said it is waiting for investigators to officially release the cause of the blaze, and it will not participate in speculation.
Residents in the Hayes Valley neighborhood said they are thankful no one was hurt in Tuesday’s fire, but they remain on-edge about future fires. Resident Nadine SaezI told KRON4, “If (Tuesday’s) fire had happened even an hour earlier, it could have spread … and people could have gotten hurt.”