SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - Two juveniles have admitted to South San Francisco police they started the hillside sign fire on Friday. The 14 and 16-year-olds were questioned by police and released to their families, pending an ongoing investigation officials said.
A resident in the area reported seeing the two boys leaving the immediate area just after the fire started. The boys issued statements to police and the investigation will be forwarded to the South San Francisco fire marshal. Police say the teens may have set the fire unintentionally, but that remains to be determined.
Crews had earlier contained the five-alarm vegetation fire near the South San Francisco hillside sign that threatened several nearby homes. Police said there were no injuries reported or structures lost due to this fire.
Three homes on Mountain Road were damaged.
The blaze broke out just before noon and quickly went to four alarms. Around 1 p.m., a fifth alarm was struck. South San Francisco Fire Department contained the fire just over an hour later.
All evacuation orders were lifted at around 5:30 p.m. Residents on Larch Avenue, Carnelian Road, Sonja Road, Mountain Road, Ridgeview Court and Viewmont Terrance were affected.
Neighbors say they smelled smoke and saw fire burning close to their homes-on what they call Sign Hill, where the name "South San Francisco" is prominently displayed on the hillside.
"I saw bright red blames go over the tree. I've never seen that before.
We saw ashes and it was pretty close to us," said April Chorba.
She said she called 911 and evacuated with her family.
"I was bascially like let's go. Let's get out of here. Grabbed a few belongings, said Hezekiah Chorba, April's husband. .
The couple says they grabbed their computers and the voting material so they can vote, jumped in their car and left.
Hezekiah took cell phone video he took as he drove away. thinking that their home may not survive.
He's now grateful that flames burned within a few feet of their home with no damage to the structure.
"We've been here more than 30 years. It's the first fire," said neighbor Lindy Sison whose home was one of three damaged by the fire.
"We had low humidity. The temperatures were in the 90s, which is unusual for this area and heavy offshore winds," said Battalion Chief Jeff Huntze with North County Fire Authority which oversees Daly City, Pacifica and Brisbane. He said his crews were there to support South San Francisco Fire by protecting structures.
Aerial firefighting efforts were hindered by reports of drones overhead. Officials asked anyone flying a drone near the fire to land it immediately.
Fire officials said the conditions caused the flames to spread quickly, that it took crews about two hours to get the upper hand.
Relieved residents were allowed back home starting around 4 p.m.
"It's of sentimental value. We have all our memories and pictures and the kids grew up here," said Sison. He's grateful there's no loss of life and that his beloved cat was found safe.
"Becuase of the fire department, our memories are still intact. Everything can be replaced," said Sison. "Our first responders are so efficient and fast taking out the fire."
Just after containing the first fire, another three-alarm fire was reported about 2:50 p.m. in the 100 block of Starlite Street, about a block from the South San Francisco Fire Department. This fire was in an industrial and business park area near North Canal Street.
Firefighters quickly gained the upper hand. A video of the blaze was shared with KTVU on Twitter and shows flames erupting from behind Royalty Auto Collision Center. It is not clear how this second fire started.