Four-alarm North Beach fire fuels finger-pointing

A four-alarm fire in San Francisco’s North Beach quickly fueled blame and became a political hot potato over the weekend as San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin criticized Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White for being slow to put out the flames.

Aside from a firefighter who fell while mopping up the flames on Sunday, no injuries were reported from the fire that broke out at 9 p.m. at an apartment building under renovation at 650 Union Street.
But 10 businesses were damaged and eight residents were displaced.

“This was an abject failure of the Fire Department,” Peskin, the leader of the board’s progressive faction, told the San Francisco Chronicle. He said that it seemed to him as though firefighters didn’t pour water on the fire for 30 minutes and that he couldn’t reach the fire chief because her voice mail was full, the Chronicle reported.

On Monday, Hayes-White said that a preliminary investigation points to accidental cause in the fire and that it appears it may have started in the chimney flue of a Thai restaurant in the building and then spread. The fire is however still under investigation. 

Hayes-White responded that  firefighters were concentrating on battling flames inside the building and making sure no one was trapped before spraying water from the outside.

Fire crews arrived within two minutes of getting a call at 7:24 p.m., Hayes-White said. She told KTVU said that firefighters must be “calm and methodical” and should not rush in before having all the facts and strategies in place.

“With all due respect to Mr. Peskin,” she said, “I’d like him to stay in our lane and he can stay in his.” 

The supervisor said he planned to call for an independent investigation of the department’s response to the blaze. Peskin has a history of clashing with city department heads, including Hayes-White.