Noe Valley Voice November 2012
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Two Families Rising from the Ashes of Noe Street Fire

They’re Thankful That Neighbors, Friends, and Firefighters Came to Their Aid

By Tim Innes


Six truck and engine companies arrived to put out the smoky fire at 1088 Noe St. on Sept. 19, including Engine 24 from the Hoffman Avenue fire station. Fortuntately, no one was hurt in the blaze.    Photo by Pamela Gerard 

 


Heather Eyraud had just strapped her 2-year-old daughter, Zoe, into her highchair for a bowl of fruit and yogurt on Sept. 19 when someone rapped on the door of her flat at 1088 Noe St..

“There’s smoke coming out from upstairs,” a man shouted when she opened the door. Eyraud went back inside to call her upstairs neighbor, Doreen King, but before she could do so, the pounding on her door resumed. “Your house is on fire. You’ve got to get out,” the man shouted.

The barefoot Eyraud plucked Zoe from her chair and dashed out the door and down the front steps, kicking a pair of sneakers ahead of her. Reaching the sidewalk, she turned to see the upstairs windows blow out, followed by a ball of flame that rolled up the front of the three-story building. In her scramble to safety, she lost her phone.

Eyraud could hear sirens approaching as she stood, stunned, with Zoe on the sidewalk.

Engine 24 from the fire station on Hoffman Avenue was the first to arrive, five minutes after the first 911 call came in at 11:08 a.m. It was quickly followed by five more truck and engine companies, from as far away as 23rd and Folsom streets. Police officers blocked traffic on 24th, Noe, and Elizabeth streets, and Muni rerouted the 48-Quintara bus line.

Meanwhile, Doreen King was leaving the Diamond Heights Safeway, having just purchased a week’s worth of groceries. Suddenly, she noticed a torrent of text and voice messages on her cell phone: “Your house is on fire!”


Doreen King and sons Connor and Devin (right) lost their possessions but were touched by the generosity they received after a devastating fire at 1088 Noe St.    Photo by Pamela Gerard

King loaded her Blue Chevy and headed toward home. As she reached the roadblock at Elizabeth and Noe, she could see a galaxy of flashing lights, ladders, and hoses. Firefighters were swarming over her century-old wood-frame building. Smoke poured from the shattered windows of her second-floor unit. Her heart sank.

A crowd had gathered across Noe Street, with many people snapping pictures with their phones. Neighbors Cliff Jackson and Armin Pelkmann, who had pounded on doors up and down the block, vanished into the crowd before Eyraud and King had a chance to thank them. Annette Soza, manager of the Chase Bank branch at 24th and Noe, took Zoe and Heather Eyraud into her office and helped Heather track down her husband, Rick Eyraud, at work.

“I was terrified and in shock, and she was so wonderful to us,” said Eyraud. “[She] allowed us to use her office as a safe place to be, away from all the smoke, ash, broken glass, and debris. A place for the police and the Fire Department to come speak to me—just a place to sit safely with my baby, away from all the chaos.”

Eyraud, a registered nurse, said she and her husband, a telecommunications consultant, hoped to thank Jackson and Pelkmann personally for their good deeds. “Without them, Zoe and I could be in hospital burn centers, or dead,” she said.

 

 

Painful Losses

As Soza helped Eyraud, many of King’s neighborhood friends began arriving. In addition to providing comfort and moral support, they offered practical help: refrigeration for the perishables she had just purchased; meals; spare bedrooms for King and her sons, Connor and Devin; and clothing, especially school uniforms for the boys. Connor, 15, is a sophomore at Stuart Hall on Octavia Street; Devin, 12, is a seventh-grader at St. Philip School on Elizabeth.

The fire was declared under control at 11:28 a.m. After firefighters ventilated the building and determined the cause of the blaze—a faulty electric heater in the front bedroom—King and Eyraud were allowed inside to survey the damage. They were escorted by Battalion 10 Chief Tom Abbott, an acquaintance of King’s from St. Philip’s.

Abbott’s presence helped, because King was unprepared for the destruction she found. The flat was smoky and still warm. What wasn’t charred was covered with ash and soot.

“We lost everything,” she said. “Sure, we can get new clothes and furniture. But some things, like family photos and my sons’ baptismal and confirmation certificates, are priceless and irreplaceable.”

King said the damage to her home of 20 years was estimated at $300,000 to $350,000. The fire exposed lead and asbestos that will have to be abated before reconstruction can begin.

The Eyrauds, who purchased their unit 10 years ago, were more fortunate. “We were able to salvage some things,” said Heather Eyraud. “We had mostly smoke and water damage, though some chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling. The insurance adjuster estimates it’ll take eight months to repair all the damage, but friends who’ve been through this say it always takes longer than expected. But however long it takes, we plan to return. This is our home and we love Noe Valley.”

 

 

 

Third Blaze in Three Weeks

The Noe Street blaze was one of three fires to strike the neighborhood over a three-week period in late summer. On Aug. 27, a two-alarm fire a block away on Jersey Street displaced more than a dozen people and caused an estimated $423,000 in             damage. And on Sept. 6, another two-alarm blaze routed 11 residents and caused an estimated $635,000 in damage on 22nd Street, just east of ­Dolores.

According to the incident report, the Aug. 27 fire broke out about 2:30 p.m. in the upper flat at 280-282 Jersey and quickly spread to the unit and garage below. The blaze then spread to the adjacent three-story building at 276-78 Jersey, where firefighters were able to contain the damage to an exterior wall. The blaze was declared under control at 3:22 p.m. Its cause was believed to have been electrical.

Interior designer Kathleen Monroe was working in her office at the rear of 280 Jersey when she heard pounding on the front door. Checking on the commotion, she was confronted by an ax-wielding firefighter, who told her to get out.

“I ran back to my office, grabbed my purse and my laptop, and went out the back way,” said Monroe, 45. “I climbed over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. For some reason I was wearing heels that day, which made escaping all the more interesting.”

Monroe said her apartment sustained mostly water damage. “We lost relatively few things. My sofa and some books were damaged and my housemate’s mattress was soaked. I have renter’s insurance, so things are covered.”

While repairs are under way, Monroe is house-sitting for friends, and her housemate is staying with relatives. “The contractor says we should be back in in three months. January can’t come too soon. Though a lot of my work takes place at the Design Center or in the field, it’s a hassle. It’ll be good to be home,” she said.

The Sept. 6 fire, reported at 1:05 a.m., originated in a three-story, eight-unit building at 3475-81 22nd St. Upper floors sustained most of the damage, estimated at $500,000 to the structure and $100,000 to contents. The neighboring structure, at 3483-89 22nd St., sustained minor damage, estimated by the Fire Department at $25,000 to the building and $10,000 to contents. Cause of the blaze, which some residents told Mission Local began in a stairwell, is under investigation.

Though the Jersey Street residents declined offers of aid, those on 22nd Street—rousted from their apartments in the middle of the night—gratefully accepted help from the Red Cross, resident Teresa Calle told Mission Local. The disaster relief organization provided a bus to shelter the suddenly homeless residents and handed out blankets, hot coffee, food, $75 gift cards, and vouchers for a three-night stay in a hotel downtown.

 

 

Outpouring of Generosity

The weeks since the Noe Street fire have been an emotional roller-coaster for King and her sons and the Eyrauds. King was taken in by friends from St. Philip’s and Stuart Hall—the Maloneys, the Quinlans, and the Cavanaughs; given a three-night hotel stay by the Red Cross; and put up in the Embassy Suites in South San Francisco by her insurance company. After “looking at over 40 properties in Noe Valley, the Castro, the Mission, and Diamond Heights,” King finally located a three-bedroom house on Duncan Street and moved in on Oct. 20.

“The people at the Embassy Suites were wonderful, but there was no place to cook, and getting the boys to school at the same time I was taking classes at Skyline College was a hassle,” said King, 49. “I may be sleeping on a mattress on the floor, but it’s great to have a place to call home.”

Meanwhile, the Eyrauds were put up for three nights by neighbors Ron Indech and Sandra McIntyre before being shunted to a series of hotels from South San Francisco to Walnut Creek and back to San Francisco by their insurer. As of late October, they were still searching for an extended-stay facility or an apartment where they don’t have to sign a year’s lease.

Both families credit the Noe Valley community for getting them through their darkest hours. A 26-year resident, King has deep roots in the neighborhood, particularly at St. Philip’s parish and school, where she was PTA president and ran the annual fall festival for many years. Members of the Men’s Club helped board up her broken windows; women from the church salvaged and laundered clothing; and individual members contributed food, clothing, and gift cards. Father Tony LaTorre, the pastor at St. Philip’s, organized a Halloween-themed fundraising barbecue after mass on Oct. 28 and arranged a scholarship for Devin.

King also gave shout-outs to Carol Yenne, her former employer at Small Frys; Carolyn Miller of Musical Theater Works; J.R. at Selecta Auto Body; Eddie Mullins at Mullins Real Estate; and many other neighborhood business owners for their kindness and generosity. “To know that you’re not alone in your time of need, that’s everything,” she said.

The last three years have been rough for King—cancer, a divorce, financial woes, a totaled car, and now a devastating fire. But she remains upbeat. “I hope to get my state aesthetician’s license in July, so I can be financially independent. I know we’re going to be okay,” she said.

“Doreen has done so much for others, particularly at St. Philip’s,” said Hill Street resident Norine Traci-Maloney, a longtime friend. Now it’s her turn to be on the receiving end.” 

Heather and Rick Eyraud also have a long list of people to thank, starting with Chief Abbott and Kacy Cardinale of the Fire Department and Chase’s Annette Soza. Then there are neighbors Mike Tyree, Sandra, and Ron; and friends Erin Repp and the Kaselitz family, who watched Zoe while the Eyrauds dealt with insurers, bankers, contractors, and realtors. They also had kind words for ­GetzWell Pediatrics, Savor, Patxi’s Pizza, Pasta Pomodoro, La Boulange, Bernie’s, Starbucks, and Qoio owner Gilbertina Guarini.

“Our neighbors and the people of Noe Valley have truly reached out to us,” said Heather Eyraud. “We live in a very special community.… We feel lucky to be a part of this community. It has felt like an extended family.”

 

 

 

Be Safe—Protect Yourself from Fire

 

 

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Benjamin Franklin

 

 

Benjamin Franklin, best known today as a Founding Father, was also founder of Philadelphia’s Union Fire Company, the world’s first fire department. Were he alive today, his Poor Richard’s Almanack blog might contain these words of wisdom about keeping you and your family safe from fire:

Don’t overload circuits, and avoid extension cords when possible. If you must use them, do not place cords and wires under rugs or tack them to walls. If a cord or appliance sputters, sparks, or emits an unusual smell, unplug it.

Never place portable space heaters near flammable materials, such as furniture, bedding, and drapes.

Keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children. Store them up high, preferably in a locked cabinet.

Place candles in non-tip candleholders before you light them and be sure to extinguish them before leaving the house or going to bed.

Never smoke in bed or leave burning cigarettes unattended.

Don’t leave cooking food unattended on the stove or in the oven. If you must leave the kitchen temporarily, set a timer or take something with you to remind you that the stove or oven is on.

Keep the stove and oven clean and free of grease. In the event of a fire, put a lid over the flames.

Make sure the fireplace is equipped with a sturdy metal or glass screen. Have the chimney checked before each heating season and make repairs as necessary.

Never empty smoldering coals or ashes into a trash can.

Prepare an escape plan for every room of your home and have the whole family practice getting out. Select a place where everyone can gather after escaping the house.

Be sure there are smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of the house. Replace the batteries annually, perhaps each fall when you turn clocks back at the end of Daylight Savings Time (Nov. 4 this year). A working smoke alarm can double your chances of survival, authorities say.

 

 

More information about fire prevention can be found at http://www.sf-fire.org/index and http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev.

 

—Tim Innes