Staff writers

SAN FRANCISCO -- Firefighters struggled to reach an area still smoldering and hosed down hot spots on Wednesday after a massive five-alarm blaze destroyed a $227 million apartment development Tuesday in the Mission Bay neighborhood, authorities said.

The fire, which injured two firefighters, was contained to the 172-unit building but was not yet under control as of Wednesday afternoon, said San Francisco Fire Division Chief David Franklin.

The apartment complex had collapsed inward, he said, creating hazards that prevented crews from extinguishing a smoldering fire on the bottom floors. There were more concerns for potential collapse of walls on Wednesday.

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said one firefighter suffered first- and second-degree burns on his hands but continued to fight the fire for "a significant amount of time," despite the burns. A battalion chief working with the overnight crew suffered an ankle injury, she said.

Both are expected to recover fully, she said. No other injuries were reported.

Hayes-White said primary fire damage was contained to the apartment complex under construction. The project, known as MB360, was being developed by San Francisco-based BRE Properties Inc. and was slated to open later this year.

"It was a phenomenal display of teamwork" that kept the fire from spreading, Hayes-White said at a news conference Wednesday.


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Officials said the building was intended to mirror a nearby apartment building on Fourth Street that is seven stories tall and includes a penthouse. BRE Properties issued a statement Tuesday that none of its workers was injured and thanked fire crews. A spokeswoman said BRE Properties would not have any more comment Wednesday about the fire.

San Francisco Fire spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said the blaze may have been sparked by welding going on above ground. Workers completed doing welding work between 3:30 and 4 p.m. Tuesday, she said.

Four aerial ladders surrounded the four corners of the building on Wednesday afternoon, with firefighters dousing each section with hoses. A long-armed wrecker began pushing down sections of the complex's external walls just before 4 p.m.

Two nearby apartment buildings, the Strata at Mission Bay and the Venue, were evacuated Tuesday evening, San Francisco Fire Deputy Chief of Operations Mark Gonzales said. Both buildings have about 200 units, but the Venue is at only 40 percent capacity and may be used to temporarily house displaced residents.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said about 30 units in other neighboring apartment buildings also were evacuated after windows blew out during the fire and that automatic sprinkler safety systems in those buildings were activated.

It was not known when any of the evacuated residents would be allowed to return. All found housing or were assisted by the Red Cross, Franklin said.

Steven Johnson, 27, stood outside the Venue on Wednesday morning with four suitcases, awaiting word on when he might be able to return. Johnson said he was in the process of moving into a second-floor apartment when the fire started; he added that "you could feel the heat through the window."

He stayed in a hotel near Union Square on Tuesday night and said he would do so again if need be Wednesday.

"I'm just waiting on word from the leasing office," he said. "It's not like they're going to be busy. I doubt they'll be showing many tours."

Fourth Street remained closed on Wednesday, as did all blocks surrounding the buildings. But San Francisco MUNI officials confirmed that trains were running on Third Street as scheduled.

About 60 firefighters remained at the scene Wednesday, Franklin said, down from the 150 that worked to extinguish the fire on Tuesday evening.

One building that was not evacuated was the Channel Mission Bay apartment complex, located diagonally across the way from the fire. That complex just opened in January.

"The apartment smelled like a campfire," resident Rachel Gilner, 29, said. "It's crazy, because it was so close. It was really scary."

A Block 11 site, which is also part of the MB360 development and contains 188 units under construction, was not affected by the fire.

"We are currently assessing the situation, including the cause of the fire, and we will be consulting with the appropriate authorities," the company said in a statement.

BRE Properties said the company has comprehensive insurance coverage for events such as the fire and believe any losses to the company caused by the fire will be covered by insurance.

Staff writers Katie Nelson, Eric Kurhi and Kristin J. Bender contributed to this story.