Fewer Significant Fires, More Small Ones, in San Francisco

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Since 2003, the San Francisco Fire Department has received 576,462 service calls. Roughly 20 percent of those, 110,305, originated from Bayview-Hunters Point, Mission Bay, Potrero Hill, Visitacion Valley, and South-of-Market. Ten percent required firefighting, five percent involved first aid or assisting the physically disabled; another five percent necessitated reactivating or shutting down alarms or sprinkler systems. 

Half of calls citywide prompt an investigation, of which roughly one-quarter were determined to be false alarms. Over the past 18 years there’s been 13,040 unnecessary service calls from SoMa. 

A large chunk of false alarms come from one of the many call boxes scattered throughout San Francisco. Thirty to forty percent of unnecessary service requests from Potrero Hill and Mission Bay originate from call boxes, a proportion that rises to 50 percent in Bayview, 63 percent in SoMa.

The number of fire incidents has generally declined over the past decade, though Mission Bay and SoMa saw increases over the period.  As reported in Mission Local, the quantity of small fires rose by 26 percent throughout the City, with as much as 50 percent more blazes in SoMa from 2019 to 2020. 

Increases in the number of small fires coincides with growth in San Francisco’s unhoused population. According to the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s Point-In-Count report, the unhoused population jumped from 6,858 to 8,035 between 2017 and 2019, close to a 20 percent increase.