Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Two suspicious fires hit Castro area

Two two-alarm fires that are being investigated as suspicious hit the Castro area early this morning (Thursday, February 3), affecting three buildings around 17th and 16 streets. Seventeen people have been  displaced from one of the buildings.

Lieutenant Mindy Talmadge, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Fire Department, said one firefighter suffered a minor injury. She said both fires have been put out.

Talmadge said at 4:25 a.m., the departed reported to a small trash fire at 2248 Market Street in a backyard trashcan. The backyard was locked, she said, and that fire “didn’t raise any red flags.”

Then, around 5 a.m., firefighters responded to a structure fire at 3620 16th Street, at Market. The fire started outside but spread to the building and went to second-alarm status. Seventeen people were displaced, but the  fire was under control by 6:05.

While firefighters worked on that fire, others responded to a fire at a building under construction at 17th and Hartford streets, a block away. That fire, which also started on the exterior and became a second-alarm fire, spread to the attic of a neighboring building.

The people who live in the unit affected by the fire are out of town, said Talmadge. She indicated other residents left the building temporarily but were able to go back in. She said the fire was reported just before 5:30 a.m.

Talmadge said the two structure fires are being investigated as suspicious because of the proximity of the two locations, the short time span involved, and the point of origin for both fires was exterior. She didn’t know whether any messages had been left at either scene.

“The trash fire in and of itself is not suspicious, but [investigators] are taking that into consideration,” said Talmadge.

Lieutenant Lyn Tomioka, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Police Department, said police had been dispatched to the scenes but she didn’t know yet whether they’ve determined that criminal activity was involved.

Mission Station Captain Greg Corrales and Park Station Caption Denis F. O’Leary plan to meet this afternoon to discuss the incidents and coordinate their response. Due to how the city divides its police districts, the fires occurred within the two police precincts.

“It appears they were set by some person,” said Corrales. “I will be meeting with Captain O’Leary today to work out a plan to hopefully prevent any other fires.”

Captain Teresa Barrett, formerly with Park Station, happened to be addressing the Castro merchant’s monthly meeting this morning and recalled she had an arsonist in the Haight and it turned out to be a person who lived nearby and liked watching the fires. She also said that the police worked with the community and stationed officers inside homes at night as lookouts in order to capture the individual.

When asked by the Bay Area Reporter if he thought the person who started the Castro fires was a resident of the gay neighborhood, Corrales said he was unsure at this point.

“It is difficult to say. It could be a lot of different options,” he said.

“What we do know is this is very serious. Our intent is to see that there are no more fires.”

Brian Kendall, the owner of the building at the corner of Hartford and 17th Streets, said he suspected the fires were started by an individual who was arrested Monday night in the Castro and was heard screaming he would “burn the neighborhood.”

“I think it was just a disgruntled, angry person,” said Kendall, who had bought the historic multi-unit building, constructed in 1902, 5 years ago.

He and his family had just moved out six weeks ago in order to restore the historical structure. Because it was vacant, Kendall believes the arsonist saw it as an easy target.

The person set the back of the house on fire, and the flames not only destroyed the Hartford end of the building but also damaged the adjacent apartment building.

Firefighters were still working on the building at 11 a.m. this morning, and scorched wood was piled on Hartford Street.

“The firefighters were already at the 16th Street fire and saw the smoke here on 17th Street. Luckily, mine is not as bad as over there,” said Kendall, who was about to contact his insurance company. “The fire department has been fantastic. What is disturbing with the 16th Street fire is the person tried to light people’s doors on fire and burn them alive.”

Fire crews were also working on the 16th Street fire at 11 a.m. this morning, while Red Cross staffers were on the scene to assist with those displaced by the fires.

The gray-colored Victorian, two doors up from Squat and Gobble, had extensive damage to it. The fire engulfed the front façade and the windows on both stories were smashed out. In the upper right hand window a scorched lamp sat.

The building to the left also suffered damage, as the flames singed the side paneling.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, February 3, 2011 @ 9:45 am PST
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