Fire Activity in Potrero Hill on Par with Recent Years

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In July a Potrero Hill resident posted to social networking site, Nextdoor, that he regularly heard the blaring sirens of fire trucks on the neighborhood’s northern slope. He calculated there’d been six calls within six days to the 600 block of San Bruno Avenue and was concerned, given that the area had in the past few years been subjected to several fires, including one that resulted in a burnt house on the 700 block of San Bruno.

“While there has been recent activity in the Potrero neighborhood, it is imperative to evaluate this within context of activity over time,” commented Fire Department Lieutenant Jonathan Baxter.  “Looking at the period of 2008 to 2017, the average number of fires per year is approximately 43. The high point was in 2012, with a total of 55, and the low was in 2015, with 33 total fires. At the current rate, we could anticipate a total of 48 by year’s end. Regarding working fires, the average number per year since 2008 is approximately eight. During this ten-year period, the high was in 2008, with 12 working fires, and the low was in 2017, with three working fires. Working fires are defined as fires requiring a full alarm assignment. At the current rate, we could anticipate a total of 10 by year’s end. These numbers are in the high-normal range for the ten-year period.”

Baxter explained that the known causes of the fires are consistent with what the Department has seen historically, and include discarded smoking materials, electrical discharge and hot embers or ash from barbecues. He encouraged the public to review fire safety guidelines, such as having multiple smoke detectors in homes, especially just outside sleeping areas, and testing the devices monthly. Other tips are placing fire extinguishers in kitchens, garages and near furnaces, not smoking in bed, and having electrical systems, chimneys and appliances inspected. He suggested that Hill residents call the Fire Department, police or emergency medical personnel to report relevant incidents. 

According to Fire Department data, between June 14 and July 14 there were 36 incidents in which firefighters were called to Potrero Hill to address a situation. Of those incidents, four were characterized as false alarms, four as grass or natural vegetation fires, four as outdoor rubbish fires, one was a cooking fire, three were associated with vehicular accidents, two involved assisting an incapacitated person, two were service calls, one involved a weakened or collapsed building, one was a water issue, five were due to either an unintended smoke alarm activation or device malfunction, one dealt with a biohazard, two were rescues, one involved someone being locked inside a structure, one was a “good intent call”, another call ended up being cancelled, and yet another was due to the odor of smoke with no fire present.

There were no incidents during that period for the 600 or 700 blocks of San Bruno Avenue. However, a grass fire occurred on June 30 on San Bruno and 18th Street.

Calling the Fire Department to investigate a location doesn’t necessarily result in an incident being recorded. For a request to trigger an incident report there must be evidence of an occurrence, such as something burning, smoke, or hazardous material found. A call that doesn’t result in an incident report could be due to an individual cooking outdoors who subsequently left the area by the time personnel arrived, with no evidence abandoned behind.

According to Baxter, the Department’s social outreach and medical teams have increased their presence around San Bruno Avenue, assisting individuals as needed. In compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, information about interactions that these teams have with people aren’t publicly available.

In July, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen introduced legislation to bolster fire safety requirements in residential buildings. Under the proposal landlords who repeatedly violate Fire Department and Department of Building Inspection standards would have to update their structure’s fire suppression and alarm systems. Currently residences that were built before 2008 are exempt from sprinkler system upgrades.

“Recent fires in large apartment buildings in San Francisco have resulted in property damage, loss of housing, and in some instances, loss of life,” stated a policy analysis report from the Board of Supervisors budget and legislative analyst.  “These fires have highlighted the need to re-examine the City’s fire safety policies in residential buildings. There were 252 two-alarm or greater residential fires from 2004 to 2016. Most of these fires (63 percent) were accidental, while eight percent were intentionally or deliberately set. The cause of more than one-third of these fires was not determined; electrical, open flame, and smoking materials caused most of the fires for which a cause was determined. Wood framed buildings, the most common building type in San Francisco, made up 87 percent of the fires.”

The San Francisco Fire Department’s Community Outreach Team has a “Fire and Line Safety in the Home Workshop” that’s designed for neighborhoods to reduce the fire risks of and preserve life and property. Residents can contact firefighter, Tomie Kato, tomie.kato@sfgovorg, to schedule a workshop.