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Massive 5-Alarm Blaze in SoMa Burns 6 Buildings, Injures SF Firefighter

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Multiple buildings were engulfed in flames Tuesday morning on the block contained by South Van Ness Avenue, Folsom, 14th and Erie streets in San Francisco. (Courtesy SF Fire Department via Twitter)

Updated 1 p.m.

Click for area of detail. (Matthew Green/KQED)

Firefighters battled a large five-alarm structure fire on Tuesday morning near Highway 101 in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood.

First reported around 6:30 a.m., the fire burned for hours, with huge plumes of black smoke billowing into the air. It burned at least six commercial buildings within the block contained by South Van Ness, Folsom, 14th and Erie streets, displacing roughly 100 workers and destroying or badly damaging multiple businesses, according to the San Francisco Fire Department.

Firefighters had mostly contained the blaze by about 9 a.m., preventing it from spreading to neighboring structures.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

About 160 firefighters and 60 trucks and engines battled the blaze, SFFD Chief Jeanine Nicholson said at a morning news briefing.

"We're just going to be on scene for quite a while longer, for several days most likely," she said. "It is still under investigation. We do not have a cause of origin at this time."

After exhausting the immediate water supply, firefighters pumped water through a high-pressure system from tanks on Jones Street, then Ashbury Street and finally from Twin Peaks, attacking the flames with a deluge of some 100 million gallons of water, a department spokesman said.

Bartfeld Sales Co., a construction supply warehouse, was among the businesses that went up in flames. The building, which appears to have been completely destroyed, contained a large supply of lumber, Brian Bartfeld, the owner's son, told KTVU. No one was inside at the time, he said.

Firefighters battle a five-alarm blaze on 14th Street between South Van Ness and Folsom Street in San Francisco on the morning of July 28, 2020. Bartfeld Sales Co. was one of multiple businesses destroyed in the blaze, with only a remnant of its charred facade remaining. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the neighborhood, said power had been cut to some of the surrounding buildings, and members of the public have been asked to stay away from the vicinity.

One firefighter was taken to San Francisco General Hospital for treatment after being hit by falling debris and suffering a minor head injury. No other injuries have been reported.

In a series of tweets, the fire department directed people to the crowd-sourced app Citizen, where it posts updated information and videos.

People displaced by the fire and in need of services can go to a staging location in the parking lot of Rainbow Grocery at 1745 Folsom Street, where Red Cross workers are stationed, the department said.

One of the buildings impacted by the fire is a San Francisco Sheriff's Department facility, which houses its field operations headquarters, a planning division and administrative offices, according to Ken Lomba, president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs' Association.

Lomba estimated 15 to 20 staffers work at the building on a daily basis and confirmed that all had evacuated safely.

"The evac was a precaution," Lomba told KQED. "Whatever building is on fire is right next to it."

The department later confirmed that there had been ammunition stored in the building, which it removed during the fire.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued an air quality advisory Tuesday morning due to smoke from fire, which it said was impacting areas around San Francisco, with shifting winds also bringing smoke into the East Bay. Air quality will likely improve throughout the day, officials said, but urged residents to avoid smoke exposure and, if possible, stay indoors with windows closed until smoke levels subside. It is also recommended that residents set their air conditioning units or car vent systems to recirculate air to prevent outside air from moving inside.


"We expect localized smoke impacts," said Kristine Roselius with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. "Particulate matter (PM) levels are not elevated on our monitors, but that is likely due to smoke going above the marine layer at 2,000 feet."

KQED's Scott Shafer, David Marks and Matthew Green contributed reporting. This post will continue to be updated.

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