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USF Community Offers Accounts on Inner Richmond Fire By Mardy Harding, Kalan K. Birnie and Gabriel Greschler

A gas explosion and fire rocked the Inner Richmond District on the afternoon of Feb. 6. The blaze occurred at the corner of Parker Avenue and Geary Boulevard, blocks away from USF’s Lone Mountain.

The fire lasted approximately two hours. No injuries were reported, but there was severe damage to at least one of the buildings at the intersection, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company services temporarily shut off gas and electricity service to some surrounding buildings.

MICHAEL HOOD/FOGHORN

The explosion occurred when a third-party construction company called MasTec, hired by Verizon, struck a 4-inch plastic gas line, PG&E said in a phone interview.

The first call to the fire department came in at 1:18 p.m. The fire was put out at 3:36 p.m. when crews were able to close off the gas line feeding it.

USF sent out an email and text alert at 2:00 p.m. about the fire and told community members to avoid the area.

The text USF sent out to the community. SCREENSHOT BY GABRIEL GRESCHLER

Hannah Davis, a sophomore who was just across the street in the post office when the explosion happened, said a woman screamed to alert the customers in the store.

“Everyone in the shop ran to the door and saw the construction site had erupted into huge flames,” Davis said. “Someone yelled to call 911 and then we all ran out the door towards Stanyan [Street]. As we were running out people were streaming out of the apartments above [Hong Kong] Lounge [II] and the buildings next to it.”

As flames raged above the now-gutted restaurant “Hong Kong II”, fire crews attempted the contain the fire and keep it from spreading.

MICHAEL HOOD/FOGHORN

In a media update, San Francisco Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White told half a dozen reporters that their strategy was to “surround and drown” the fire until the gas could be shut off. Hoses could be seen blasting water into the apartments above Hong Kong Lounge II and the surrounding buildings. The mist drifted down the street for several blocks, while dark brown smoke billowed into the sky.

“The fire was so bright and tall, and seemed to keep getting wider and taller,” Davis said. She did not stop walking and running until she reached Park Presidio Boulevard and Geary Boulevard, and said she was checking fire department updates on Twitter the whole way.

Several USF Public Safety officers were on the scene soon after the blaze started to direct traffic and to hand out N95 masks to first responders already there. Public Safety Officer Tom Waters helped assist the SFFD and San Francisco Police Department in evacuating a building close to the fire, according to public safety Lt. Kevin Dillon.

USF Facilities consulted the SFFD on whether they should shut off gas service to Lone Mountain, Loyola Village and Loyola House. They were told it would not be necessary, according to USF Facilities Director of Operations Craig Petersen.

View of the fire from Lone Mountain. ETHAN TAN/FOGHORN

With gas shut off to certain businesses and apartments in the Inner Richmond District, USF’s Office of Student Life referenced data from the University’s Registrar to contact students who lived in the affected area and offer them temporary housing in vacant rooms on campus.

No students took the offer, according to Senior Director of Student Housing and Residential Education Torry Brouillard-Bruce.

Nguyen Tao and her roommates, who all attend USF and live on Parker Avenue just houses down from the blaze site, did not have electricity or gas Wednesday night, and did not have hot water until about 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. She and her roommates spent the night in their friends’ apartment.

Tao shared the following video, which was taken by a USF student who was working in the area of the fire:

“My roommates have been unable to shower for the past two days; thankfully I showered at my friend’s apartment,” Tao said.

Senior Estefania Regalado and her roommates who live on Geary Boulevard were in the same situation. “On Thursday, [our house] smelled like gas so we weren’t home,” she said. Regalado received the call from the Office of Student Life offering temporary housing.

“I really thought that was really nice,” she said of the call.

According to ABC7 (KGO-TV), roughly 100 people were displaced by the fire. Some residents were allowed to enter and retrieve their belongings, according to a statement released by the mayor’s office on Feb. 7. The same statement said the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection will expedite the review and permitting process for repairs on these buildings, in the interest of allowing residents to return as soon as possible.

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Gabriel Greschler
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