Recent Mission District fires highlight concerns over fire safety violations

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - San Francisco firefighters quickly knocked down a two-alarm fire Wednesday afternoon on Bartlett Street in the city's Mission District. No one was seriously injured but nine people were displaced.

It's the latest in a string of unrelated fires in the Mission this year that have highlighted concerns about fire safety violations in the district.

One man was killed in January in a fire at a 1906-era building at 22nd and Mission Street. Tenants said escape routes were blocked or locked and fire alarms couldn't be heard.

In the last 10 years, fire department records show 240 fire code violations on Mission Street alone, ranging from burnt-out bulbs in exit signs to locked or blocked fire exits.

"These issues are brought to our attention through a complaint from either a resident or a neighbor or it's brought to our attention by the fire companies that actually do the inspections of the buildings," said San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge. "[The 240 violations] is not an unusual amount over a 10 year-period. It's not disproportionate to any other part of the city."

Still, the Department of Building Inspection says it is now focusing on similar older buildings citywide.

"That includes the Mission, Chinatown, Tenderloin, some of the areas where we know these older, multi-unit buildings exist," said San Francisco Department of Building Inspection spokesman William Strawn. "I have been told that sometimes tenants in some of these older buildings will lock or block doors."

"We run into it fairly frequently when companies go out and do their inspections," said Talmadge. "People are concerned about people actually getting into the building from the roof, and therefore they'll lock that door to protect people from being robbed."

The San Francisco Tenants Union said enforcement efforts should be focused on making sure landlords are in complete compliance. "I've seen quite a few people who when they talk about things that their landlords have done, they're so outrageous," said Tenants Union counselor-in-training Kimalah Laguerre.

"For young, transient people in this city, who are marginalized and don't have a lot of money, like, do you really think that they're going to complain about a fire code violation?"

The Department of Building Inspections does safety inspections every three to five years but says it relies on tenants to register complaints about code violations. But the DBI says it has not seen an uptick in complaints in the wake of the high-profile fires in the Mission District.