San Francisco firefighters work to contain a November blaze at a tire and wheel shop at 16th and Shotwell streets. An adjacent apartment building was badly damaged, displacing about 20 residents. (Alex Emslie/KQED)
Updated 12:10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8
At least three buildings have been damaged by a fire at a tire and wheel shop in San Francisco's Mission District, sending up a column of thick black smoke that could be seen around the city.
The three-alarm blaze at 16th and Shotwell streets broke out in a business called Rolling Stock shortly before 8 a.m. No injuries were reported, though about 20 residents of an apartment building adjacent to the shop were forced to leave their homes.
"We're meeting with them at the evacuation center to identify what the needs are and how many are really displaced," Red Cross spokeswoman Cynthia Shaw said.
Foxy Linzmeier, a clothing designer who lives in a first-floor flat adjacent to the tire shop, said she was sleeping peacefully when "all of a sudden there's a police officer in my room, and he's saying, 'Ma'am, we have to get out of here right now. There's a fire -- we've got to get out right now.'"
Linzmeier said she saw "a wall of flames" as she fled through her building's interior courtyard. "I had a little bit of panic when I came out and could actually see the flames and see how much smoke there was -- a lot of smoke. Huge. Billowing."
San Francisco Fire Department Assistant Chief Dave Franklin said the fire was "well-involved" when firefighters arrived. Its cause is unknown at this time.
"We opened up the building and started attacking the fire from exterior operations," Franklin said. "Due to safety concerns of the roof, the amount of fire and collapse potential, we won't make entry into the building. So we're just trying to hit it from the best spots we can."
Approximately 110 firefighters were on scene, Franklin said. They surrounded the blaze, which sent a huge plume of dark black smoke over San Francisco, spraying water from the ground, from aerial ladders and from the neighboring residential building damaged by the fire. Franklin said several unaffected buildings to the northeast had been evacuated because of toxic smoke concerns.
"It’s rubber burning," he said. "It’s tires and wheels, which some are magnesium. ... People shouldn’t get in the smoke."
Franklin said the neighboring residential building housed approximately half-a-dozen apartments. The fire scorched a wall of a business next to Rolling Stock on Shotwell Street. It was also damaged by smoke, Franklin said.
"Over the last couple years, there has been significant large fires here in the Mission District," he said, adding that the older San Francisco neighborhood has a lot of wooden buildings. "It extended up through the roof and got the wood-framed structure right next to it involved. We had companies into that exposure building right away and really limited the spread of that fire."
Linzmeier said a friend just lost her home in the Valley Fire in Lake County, so she'd been thinking about what she'd do in an emergency.
"I grabbed my mother's ring that's been in the family for five generations, my passport, my computer, a money box, some papers, threw everything in a box and went running out," Linzmeier said.
Matthew Hernandez said he rushed out of his apartment after being awakened and frightened by the flames.
“I was woken up by the firefighters,” Hernandez said, standing at the corner of South Van Ness Avenue and 16th Street with his dog, Valentino.
“I looked out the window and saw them squirting water,” he said. “We grabbed the things we need."
The Rolling Stock building, which formerly housed the repair shop for a now-defunct Chrysler dealership, suffered heavy damage. At least one of the adjacent residential structures also appeared to have suffered significant damage.
The Red Cross opened an assistance center at 520 S. Van Ness Avenue -- near 16th Street -- for those displaced by the fire.