The San Francisco Fire Department has determined that a major apartment fire in San Francisco’s Mission District in January that claimed the life of one man was not intentionally set and may have been the result of an electrical fault, a fire spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Police and fire officials have said that the Jan. 28 fire at the intersection of Mission and 22nd streets does not appear to be the result of foul play or arson. San Francisco fire spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said investigators could not eliminate an electrical fault or failure as the cause of the fire. The fire originated in a third floor hallway within a stud wall and extended into the attic, Talmadge said.
Mauricio Orellana, 40, of El Salvador, died in the four-alarm fire. Mission District residents said Orellana moved from El Salvador to San Francisco about 12 years ago and had continued to support his family back in El Salvador.
Talmadge said the building sustained an estimated $4.5 million in damage, along with $4 million in damage to its contents. She said the first two floors of the three-story building contained businesses and offices, while the entire top floor contained apartments.
Talmadge said investigators received multiple reports that the residents had no advanced warning from an alarm system and that some of the fire escapes were either blocked or locked. A fire inspector who visited the building following the blaze verified that the certifications for the fire alarms and fire extinguishers were in fact still current, Talmadge said.
Fire department records indicate that between 2009 and 2012, officials received roughly one complaint per year regarding items, including furniture and an awning, blocking the fire escapes at that building. All of those issues were abated, according to Talmadge.
The cause of another fatal fire above a liquor store in the Mission District in March that killed two people remains under investigation, Talmadge said.
San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, who represents the residents of the Mission District as well as the rest of District 9, said the city must review procedures regarding building code inspections and do more to prevent fire tragedies from happening.
Campos has proposed legislation that would allow housing inspectors to cite building owners when the annual certification for fire alarm systems is out of date and require apartment building owners to post signs informing residents of their right to file an anonymous complaint regarding fire safety issues.
The legislation would also require building owners to file bi-annual affidavits with the Department of Building Inspection to certify that fire safety requirements are up-to-date. San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, representative of District 6, has suggested legislation requiring that fire alarms and sprinklers be installed to help prevent such fires from happening in older multi-unit residential buildings.
Additionally, Kim said legislation is needed to support property owners in the event of a fire so that tenants can return home as quickly as possible without allowing an opportunity for speculators to swoop in and profit off of disastrous incidents.
Kim said penalties should be put in place against property owners who fail to make repairs in a timely manner. She said in years past, she has seen repairs stretch on for years while tenants wait to return to their homes and property owners wait for tenants to move on.