Investigators seek cause of San Francisco fire

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 12, 2014 at 8:32 pm •  Published: March 12, 2014
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Fire investigators on Wednesday were looking into whether welding work was to blame for a massive blaze that barreled through an apartment building construction site, threatening nearby structures and prompting evacuations as firefighters worked to prevent its spread through a San Francisco neighborhood.

City officials said a catastrophe was narrowly avoided in an up-and-coming area near AT&T Park, home of the Giants.

"I think we're very lucky that the fire didn't jump anymore," Mayor Ed Lee said.

The exact cause of the blaze — one of the largest in the city in recent years — was under investigation. Fire officials were looking into preliminary reports that workers at the block-long site were doing torch work shortly before the fire was reported around 5 p.m. Tuesday, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said.

"It's too early to determine a cause at this point," Fire Department Battalion Chief Kirk Richardson said. "Our arson investigators still have a lot of material they have to look at."

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries. One of them, Tom Murphy, suffered burns while battling the fire from above but didn't realize he was injured for hours, said firefighter Stephen Maguire, whose crew was among the first to arrive.

The five-alarm fire created a plume of black smoke that was visible for miles and led to the evacuation of nearby buildings as about 150 firefighters were called to contain it. A wall of the burning building collapsed about an hour after the fire began.

Firefighters had to take a defensive stance because the building was leaning in some areas, Maguire said.

The blaze cracked windows at Strata at Mission Bay, an apartment building across the street, and sent an ember onto the roof of a University of California, San Francisco building.

Flames briefly spread to scaffolding at another building under construction, Maguire said.

The fire was fueled by wooden frames and other materials at the site, Hayes-White said. Because it was under construction, the building had no fire-suppression systems.