Mission fire prompts arson fears, calls for action on decaying building

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) – A three-alarm fire in San Francisco's Mission District on Sunday night in an empty building already damaged in a four-alarm fatal fire last year has intensified calls for action on the deteriorating property.

The fire in the mixed-use building at 3222 22nd St. was first reported at 11:23 p.m. and brought under control shortly before 12:30 a.m., according to San Francisco Fire Department spokesman Jonathan Baxter.

Residents in neighboring buildings were evacuated during the fire. There were no injuries and fire officials did not find anyone inside the building in a search.

Baxter said fire investigators were working this morning to determine exactly how much damage it caused.

The building was already in bad shape, however, even before Sunday night's fire. It has sat largely untouched since a four-alarm fire on Jan. 28, 2015, that killed one man and displaced 60 residents and 18 businesses.

Despite calls from community groups and elected officials for the owner to either rebuild or sell, the building's condition has deteriorated severely since then, making it a nuisance and eyesore for many community
members.

The fire has also prompted renewed fears of arson from some community members who fear that a recent spate of destructive fires in the Mission District has accelerated displacement of lower-income residents.
Activist Roberto Hernandez of the community group Our Mission No Eviction issued a statement today calling for an immediate arson investigation.

Supervisor David Campos said he has spoken to fire officials and the district attorney's office about the investigation.

"I can tell you that for me the fire that happened (Sunday) night is very suspicious," he said, noting that the property had appeared well boarded up and difficult to access on his previous visits to the site.

Baxter said the fire's cause remains under investigation and that the investigation was a "priority" for the department.

"The results of that investigation will be made public when we have them," he said.

The city's Department of Building Inspection ordered the building demolished last month, although the order was later modified to require the owner to preserve a portion of the structure to maintain the tenants' legal
right of return.

However, it has been several weeks since the order was issued and no action appears to have been taken on the property.

The Mission Economic Development Agency has put in a bid for the property in the hopes of seeing it redeveloped as affordable housing and to allow displaced tenants to return. The property owner, Hawk Lou, has so far not responded to that offer, MEDA spokesman Christopher Gil said today.

"Our concern is that the building is sitting there vacant and causing a hazard for the neighborhood," Gil said.

"Another three-alarm fire like that, it's just crazy, it has to stop," Gil said. "Those poor neighbors, if you can imagine if you had to live next door to that."

Campos said that he is exploring whether or not the city might be able to take control of the property.

"It seems that this is a perfect location for not just rebuilding affordable housing to house the people displaced by this fire but also for adding additional affordable housing," Campos said.

Many of the displaced tenants are still hoping to return to the Mission District. Some have been placed in temporary affordable housing in locations such as Parkmerced and Treasure Island, and Campos said he was
recently able to extend those leases to give them more time.

Fire officials concluded in April that the 2015 fire, which killed 40-year-old Mauricio Orellano of El Salvador, was most likely caused by an electrical problem.

The fire has triggered multiple lawsuits and prompted allegations that residents did not get advance warning from the building's alarm system and that some fire escapes were either blocked or locked.

Attempts to reach Lou and attorneys representing him have been unsuccessful.

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