Four-Alarm Building Fire Sends Flames High into North Beach Sky

Firefighters battle a four-alarm building fire in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood on Saturday, March 17, 2018. (San Francisco Fire Department/via Twitter)

Updated: Sunday, March 18, 1:10 p.m.

A four-alarm fire burned through a building at 659 Union Street between Powell and Columbus Streets in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood on Saturday night, sending diners and shoppers in the area running into the streets.

The fire was under control early Sunday morning, and the Red Cross has confirmed that eight people are displaced from an adjacent building.

People did not live in the burnt building although there were several businesses on the ground floor, including Coit Liquors and Rogue Ales San Francisco Public House.

One firefighter was injured after falling from a fire truck, but he is stable and expected to be OK.

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An evacuation center is open at 1450 Powell St. to help those affected by the fire, according to the San Francisco Fire Department, which shared the information on social media.

Last night, San Francisco Fire Department spokesman Jonathan Baxter said the fire had been contained, but expected firefighters would be working through the night to put it out.

Baxter said there were no injuries caused by the fire, and one business owner was displaced because his keys were left inside the building. A nearby apartment building at 575 Columbus Street was deemed temporarily uninhabitable due to water damage.

The fire was reported just before 7:30 p.m., and firefighters were on the scene within two minutes, according to Baxter. The fire department originally reported the second alarm on Twitter at 7:37 p.m. It was upgraded to a three and eventually four-alarm fire less than an hour later.

Flames could be seen high in the sky coming from the building along with a massive plume of smoke.

SFFD posted video of the flames tearing through the the building as firefighters shot water into its windows. Baxter said the building had 27 vacant residential units and five open businesses, all of which were filled with people when the fire broke out.

Baxter said fire crews evacuated the building within 30 minutes and then began a defensive operation, attacking the flames with water from outside because of the severity of the fire.

Fire officials evacuated the block surrounding the fire, and they are asking people to avoid the area.

Rania Aboueshwas was eating dinner at an Italian restaurant nearby when she said the smell of smoke started permeating the restaurant. She said most patrons thought it was the smell of cooking grilled chicken.

When she stepped out, she saw smoke and soon flames rising into the sky. She walked by bars blaring with music and packed with St. Patrick's Day revelers, unaware of the fire, right before police began evacuating the area.

"It was raining burnt ashes," Abouesh said. "It happened so fast."

She could still see the flames billowing into the sky once she returned to her home near Russian Hill and Lombard Street.

San Francisco Supervisors London Breed and Aaron Peskin were on the scene as well as Mayor Mark Farrell.

Baxter says fire investigators are working with SFPD to find the cause of the fire.

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The Associated Press and Bay City News contributed reporting to this story.

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