Video: Firefighters battle massive San Francisco blaze

NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 12/23/2011 6:51:04 AM ET 2011-12-23T11:51:04

About 60 people were left homeless Thursday by a San Francisco apartment building blaze that took firefighters nearly three hours to control, authorities said.

The five-alarm fire engulfed three buildings before 150 firefighters — or about half the department's daytime firefighting force — were able to bring the fire under control around 3 p.m., Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said.

Arson investigators spent the night trying to determine what sparked the fire.

The blaze sent one firefighter to the hospital with a burn to the neck and a civilian was treated for mild smoke inhalation, according to Hayes-White.

A second firefighter, originally reported as hospitalized, was given oxygen at the scene.

Image: Apartment fire in San Francisco
Jeff Chiu  /  AP
San Francisco firefighters climb down from a ladder at an apartment fire in the Western Addition area of San Francisco on Thursday.

"It was a challenging fire to fight, but given the time of day, it was actually helpful because most people were out of their dwellings," Hayes-White said. "Other than two minor injuries we were very fortunate given the magnitude of the fire."

Hayes-White said the fire started in one of the Western Addition neighborhood's trademark three-story Victorian homes and spread to a nearby apartment building and a single-family home. A total of 32 dwellings were destroyed.

Witness Rebecca Kmiec told the San Francisco Chronicle that she heard what sounded like "a series of explosions" as the blaze started.

"It was like boom, boom, boom, boom, five to seven times," she added.

As the fire burned during the afternoon, a pillar of thick smoke rose over the residential neighborhood dotted with century-old Victorian homes. Authorities closed several blocks of streets, causing massive traffic jams in the area.

The American Red Cross responded to the scene and set up an evacuation center to assist residents displaced by the fire, NBC Bay Area reported.

The fire spread easily due to brisk winds and because the building where the fire started was made of wood and directly attached to other buildings, Hayes-White added.

A nearby elderly care facility was evacuated as a precaution because of the heavy smoke, according to NBC Bay Area.

Those wishing to donate to the fire victims can contact the Red Cross at (888) 4-HELP-BAY or visit www.redcrossbayarea.org.

NBC News, The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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