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article imageSan Francisco fire kills one, leaves 40 homeless

By Nathan Salant     Jan 29, 2015 in Health
San Francisco - Dozens of residents rescued Wednesday from a burning San Francisco building may have been further imperiled by blocked fire escapes and a malfunctioning alarm system, officials said.
One person was killed and dozens lost their homes when the three-story residential and commercial building at Mission and 22nd streets became engulfed in flames for as-yet undermined reasons, but firefighters said they were investigating reports of blocked exits and a lack of alarms.
Five residents of the building and one firefighter were injured but dozens lost their homes when the building at 3222 22nd St. was declared uninhabitable on Thursday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.
The man who died was a resident of the building, which had two floors of apartment above a commercial floor that housed street-level businesses.
The fire was still smoking Thursday morning after several hours of firefighting.
“It was a very difficult fire and it still is,” Battalion Chief Jack Cremen told the newspaper.
"It’s not out yet completely, not until all the hotspots are done and we feel the building is safe,” he said.
San Francisco Police Department spokeswoman Grace Gatpandan said foul play was not suspected but the cause of the fire was under investigation.
Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White told a Thursday morning news conference at the scene that she had toured the site of the blaze with Mayor Ed Lee and predicted it could take weeks to determine the probable cause of the blaze.
The investigation will include an examination of the building's "protection systems," Hayes-White said.
The fire that destroyed the building broke out around 6:45 p.m. and firefighters arrived within three minutes, she said, which proved vital because at least a dozen people had to be rescued from inside the burning structure.
American Red Cross officials said they were helping at least 40 people who were displaced by the fire, just as they assisted residents of another building destroyed in a blaze near the same intersection last year.
"It's unreal, it's unreal," said Lani D’Arcy, 38, owner of Jet Travel on the bottom floor of the building facing 22nd Street.
"We've been here 35 years -- it's tough."
Araceli Tolama said she and her two kids had been living in an apartment on the third floor for the past five years but were not at home when the fire broke out.
A friend telephoned her about it and she returned quickly to find "everything was on fire," she said.
Tolama said the Red Cross gave her a hotel voucher for three days but said she didn't know what her family would do after that.
“What will happen now?” she asked.
Ricardo Cedeno, a 12-year resident of the building, said most of his neighbors were Latino families.
"It's devastating," Cedeno told the newspaper. "We pretty much lost everything."
Cedeno said he lived in the 22nd Street building with his wife, daughter, sister, mother and stepfather.
"We’re just here trying to see the building one last time,” he said.
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