San Francisco fire officials say roofing crew may have caused West Portal fire

A fire on Monday in San Francisco's West Portal neighborhood tore through at least three buildings, forcing evacuations and leaving a half dozen businesses out of commission.

San Francisco fire officials say the flames and smoke started at about 11:30 a.m. near the corner of West Portal and 14th Avenue. Ray Rudolph lives on the block where the flames broke out, and had just minutes to grab his computer and camera equipment before he evacuated.  He watched as the fire crept next door to his home and fire crews working to stop it. "I saw the water coming up through the roof there," said Rudolph. "I saw the roof collapsing."

Fire officials say it appears that a roofing crew may have been the cause of this fire. Rudolph said what he saw on the roof next door before he evacuated his home was alarming. "I was watching the flames on the roof and a ton of smoke and I saw, like a propane tank on the roof or something," said Rudolph.

One firefighter received minor injuries and was taken to an area hospital for treatment.

The fire damaging a string of commercial buildings housing Fuji Japanese restaurant, West Portal Cleaners and a U.S. Post Office all impacted by the fire and water used to douse the flames. Crews had to take aggressive measures to halt the fire's progression. 

"We've currently done what's called a trench cut, that's basically taking a square and cutting in a line all the way through that square that allows the fire to come to a stop gap and go up from that point allowing us to use defensive means on the outside of that trench cut," said Lt. Jonathan Baxter from San Francisco Fire Department.

The fire grew to three alarms bringing in about 100 firefighters, within an hour of crews arriving on scene the flames had been brought under control, but the damage to the popular neighborhood destinations had already been done. 

"I got my P.O. Box there in the post office, and I go to West Portal Cleaners all the time," said Herman Jones. "Well, it means a delay in picking up my clothing, uniforms for working; and getting regular mail from my PO Box."

Muni service especially the M Oceanview and K Ingleside lines which use West Portal, were impacted for several hours as crews worked to put out the fire. That service is now back to normal.