'The whole building is gone:' 75-year-old family business destroyed in 5-alarm San Francisco fire

Crews remain at the scene Tuesday night of a still active five-alarm fire that raged through multiple businesses, including a longtime family establishment in San Francisco's inner Mission District. There is no estimate for when the fire will be fully contained. 

San Francisco firefighters responded to the blaze early Tuesday morning. Crews will remain on-hand to monitor hot spots until Wednesday. 

Officials said six buildings were burned, three residents were displaced, and there was only one injury: A firefighter who was taken to San Francisco General Hospital. They were released later in the afternoon and are recovering at home. No community members were hurt. 

"When the first firefighters got here, you could not see your hands in front of your face. It had that much black smoke through its entire alleyway" said Lt. Jonathan Baxter, a spokesman for the San Francisco Fire Department .

Brian Bartfeld said that it is his family business, Bartfeld Sales Co. at 140 14th Street, appears to be completely destroyed. 

"The whole building is gone," he said, adding thankfully that no one was in the building and there were no reported injuries. 

The business has been around since 1945 and contains many flammable materials, including building material, lumber, wooden palettes, and cardboard boxes.

Bartfeld said his dad, Bruce, showed up to work before sunrise and the entire building was on fire. He acknowledged he was the last one to close up shop on Monday at about 3 p.m. and all was OK at that time. He also said there are homeless encampments nearby.

"I have had homeless people in their tent environment building bonfires for warmth," Bruce Bartfeld, 73, said. "The experience is, you can't describe it because your whole livelihood is gone."

The elder Bartfeld said it was his father who started the business 75 years ago, but when he arrived for work, he said it was gone up in flames within 10 minutes. 

Deputy Fire Chief Victor Wyrsch said the six commercial structures were affected along two full city blocks, including a roofing supply company and a sheriff's training office, where authorities had to remove ammunition from the basement as the flames licked nearby. 

The heart of the blaze was centered on Erie Street near 14th and Shotwell streets near the Interstate 80 and US 101 interchange. The blaze was reported at 6:30 a.m. 

Fire investigators believe the fire started at the rear of the building at 140 14th Street, but the cause remains under investigation. 

Lieutenant Baxter confirmed that a mattress fire was extinguished Monday night in the area. That fire was associated with a homeless encampment and was completely put out before Tuesday's blaze erupted.

Baxter said it was too early to determine if the mattress fire was connected. By chance, a fire crew drove by about 15 minutes prior to Tuesday's big fire breaking out. At that time there was no smoke or flames, he said.  

The American Red Cross provided assistance to people impacted by the fire. A temporary recovery shelter has been set up at 1745 Folsom Street. 

KTVU cameras captured images of thick, black smoke spewing from behind a Sherwin Williams building and next door, Ceramic Tile Design. Black plumes and orange flames could be seen as far away as the Bay Bridge. 

San Francisco Firefighters Local 798 tweeted out video of flames shooting through the roof of a building. 

One of the business owners, Scott Perkins, said he saved what was most important to him; his dog. 

"I'm happy to be out. We have a good community on this block, so everybody was really supportive," said Perkins. 

As for Bruce Bartfeld, he said it's too early to say whether or not they'll rebuild. 

The city of Oakland noted there was a large amount of drift smoke floating into the East Bay, and anyone with respiratory ailments should stay indoors and everyone should continue to wear face coverings. The dense smoke prompted the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to issue an advisory. 

Firefighting efforts were also hampered temporarily when power lines fell down on fire equipment. At one point, embers and sparks flew onto South Van Ness and the Central Freeway. All the fire hydrants in the area were tapped out, so Wysch said that 100 million gallons of water had to be piped down from Twin Peaks. 

Despite the dramatic images and damage, Bartfeld added that while there seems to be nothing left inside the building, he was thankful that all that was destroyed was physical material and there was no loss of life. 

KTVU's Amber Lee contributed to this report. 


A five-alarm fire broke out in San Francisco on Erie Street. July 28, 2020 (Quan Ta)


Smoke was billowing behind the Sherwin Williams building.