Unusual weapon of choice for burglars in San Francisco — blowtorch

Burglars in San Francisco appear to be turning to an unusual weapon to gain entry — blowtorches.

At least two stores in the city were hit over the past week by burglars bearing the high-temperature tool. 

Surveillance video shows a window shattering without warning at a designer eyeglass store in the Marina District.

"Did the window just kind of spontaneously combust by itself? All of a sudden, it just shattered," store owner Alex Feldman recalled after seeing the video.

But it wasn't some malfunction or earthquake. Puzzled, Feldman described what happened to his window-repair guy.

"He's like, 'they used a blowtorch.' He knew exactly what it was the second I told him," Feldman said.

It happened at about 6 a.m. on Sunday at San Francisco Optics by Alexander Daas, but the suspect couldn't get in because of the store's reinforced glass, which was outfitted years ago and helped deter burglars twice last year.

Feldman said the would-be thief probably figured the blowtorch wouldn't activate the alarm. 

He added, "Instead of hammering and making a lot of noise, and more risk to injury, I think that the blowtorch just kind of like shatters it, it's kind of cleaner and quieter."

But there's still some danger involved.

"Now they're introducing the element of fire," Feldman said.

Just two days earlier, at 4 a.m. on Friday, a man used a blowtorch at Footprint, a clothing store in the city's Sunset District, before stealing merchandise.

About an hour later, a second thief drove by, saw the front door shattered, and took the opportunity to ransack the store.

"It's a different technique. Blowtorch is so much more discreet now," said Footprint owner Michael Hsu.

 Hsu said merchants should be on notice and consider adding safety precautions such as tempered or protective glass.

"Their tactics are getting better, so I think for us business owners we just have to get on the defensive side and we got to be better," Hsu said.

Officer Robert Rueca, a San Francisco police spokesman said, "The usage of blowtorches is used very seldom. It's a rare occurrence."

Still, Rueca says there's no hard evidence showing the two incidents are related.