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Another at-risk Mission building goes up in flames
A blaze engulfed a two-story, two-unit building at Bartlett and 26th streets on April 8; it was the fourth major fire in the neighborhood since September. Photo Amos Gregory
A blaze engulfed a two-story, two-unit building at Bartlett and 26th streets on April 8; it was the fourth major fire in the neighborhood since September. Photo Amos Gregory

Yet another blaze engulfed a two-story, two-unit building at Bartlett and 26th streets on April 8; it was the fourth major fire in the neighborhood since September.

This building at 517 Bartlett Street had no sprinklers and it is uncertain whether there were working fire detectors (none were audible), said San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge.

Jessica Gonzalez, who lived next door, was sitting by the window when she heard a delivery driver yelling at her from the street that there was a fire. She ran to the backyard and saw flames coming out of the house next door, almost reaching her own house. Her first reaction was to grab the hose in an effort to contain the flames, but then she called 911.

The fire department received several calls around 1 p.m. on April 8. The two-alarm fire was under control roughly half an hour later. Nine people were displaced by the fire and property damage was estimated at $500,000.

The cause of the fire was determined to be unintentional. Talmadge said it started in the laundry room. There was “some sort of mechanical failure or malfunction that maybe had to do with the gas supplied to the dryer,” she said.

Eventually the gas ignited the clothing.

Claudia Gonzalez, Jessica’s sister and neighbor, said her mother had mentioned hearing the dryer and washer banging against each other since the day before.

When Claudia arrived at the scene, she said she saw the owner, Steven Silver, on the street, and confronted him. She claimed Silver wasn’t available to his tenants and cared little about the building.

“He got really upset and was brought away by his wife,” Claudia said.

One of the tenants, Jonny Zerah, wrote on Facebook, “My house went up in flames, I lost all my belongings, and I’m homeless.”
Zerah declined to comment, while the other tenants who were reached didn’t immediately reply.

On the day of the fire a fundraiser was started on GoFundMe by Melissa Long, a friend of the upstairs tenants. In 12 days, the campaign raised $5,600 of the $10,000 that was the goal.

“The entire upstairs flat burned in a fire. No one was hurt, but most everything was lost. This is such a devastating loss to all those involved,” Long wrote.

The donations ranged from $20 to $200. Many were signed and with supportive messages, a few were anonymous.

A building at risk
Built in 1900, the 517 Bartlett Street building was bought by Silver in 1998. The house had water damage to the ceilings and carpets, no smoke detectors, leaking sinks, and precarious electrical and wall outlets, according to the Department of Building Inspections’ records. The next year it was issued an order of abatement, whereby the landlord was required to reduce rent because of these problems. In 2000, the building was finally found compliant and the order was revoked.

Another complaint was filed in 2008 for building a ladder to access the roof without a building permit.

Silver could not be reached for comment.

The Department of Building Inspections normally does routine inspections every five years. The rest of the inspections are done when a complaint is filed, communications director Lily Madjus said.

Smoke detectors are landlords’ responsibilities Madjus said, but the tenants should make sure their place is safe and file a complaint, which can be anonymous, if it seems that there are safety issues.

“The tenants, should they see anything that’s a life hazard, they should call us,” Madjus said.

Seeing the multitude of fires in the Mission, the Department of Building Inspections instituted a new program in March to identify at-risk buildings and inspect them.

So far 126 buildings have been identified on Mission Street–spanning 67 blocks—from 3rd Street to Sickles Avenue.
A little more than 100 have been inspected. Half of the buildings inspected had violations, Madjus said, even though the department notifies the owners a few weeks before the inspection, also sending a detailed list with the items they’ll check.

Story by: Elisabetta Silvestro