sffd_fire.jpgA four-alarm fire that critically injured a construction worker Tuesday afternoon in San Francisco’s Portola neighborhood caused more than $1 million in damage, according to a San Francisco fire spokeswoman.

The fire in the 2800 block of San Bruno Avenue was reported at 3:47 p.m. It was extinguished just after 6:30 p.m., fire spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said.

The construction worker in a vacant building was using a welding torch for repairs to the building’s sprinkler connection when the worker accidentally ignited a gas line.

The worker was taken to St. Francis Memorial Hospital with life-threatening burn injuries, Talmadge said.

Also injured in the blaze were three firefighters, who were taken to San Francisco General Hospital to be treated for minor injuries. All three were released Tuesday evening.

The fire spread to a neighboring building that houses a dental office and the occupants of that building were safely evacuated, Talmadge said. No residents were displaced, however the dental office will remain closed.

Damage estimates for the dental office totaled $700,000 — $300,000 in property damage and $400,000 for contents, Talmadge said.

The building in which the fire started sustained $700,000 in damage, Talmadge said.

The fire attack was delayed by PG&E’s response to shut off the gas, which Talmadge said “was longer than we had hoped for.”

Utility crews had to dig into the street, which “generally takes a bit of time,” Talmadge said.

Fire Chief Joanna Hayes-White has requested a meeting with PG&E officials to review the incident.

“We don’t know the extenuating circumstances,” Talmadge said. The meeting is intended to see if there was a miscommunication in the response.

PG&E spokesman Joe Molica said the San Bruno Avenue fire presented a “unique situation.” In a normal situation crews can shutoff a building’s gas valve but in this case the valve was too close to the fire.

Instead crews decided to excavate the road to reach the pipes connected to the two buildings. Another option would have been to shut off the main line servicing 700 residents.

“We want to assure folks this was a quicker method,” Molica said.

First responders arrived at the scene at 4:15 p.m. and had the gas off by 5:40 p.m., the spokesman said.

The street was newly paved which slowed efforts to dig the two holes, but the gas line to the two buildings was pinched off within two hours, he said.

Following the incident, PG&E is monitoring gas levels in the neighborhood, Molica said.
He said PG&E always follows up these types of incidents with a full investigation and will gladly sit down with the Fire Department, whom they often work with.

Molica added the worker had been working near the 1-inch gas line without notifying PG&E by calling the 811 line.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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