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Supervisor Campos Sparks Arson Allegations in Mission Fires

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Mission supervisor calls foul, but fire department insists it’s just fate

Seriously, what’s with all the fires in the Mission lately?

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos says it could be the work of arson.

In an op-ed in Thursday's San Francisco Examiner, Campos goes as far as alleging that "reasonable people now believe that arson is playing a part" in the outbreak of infernos. Is the District Nine lawmaker one of those reasonable people? "I cannot say with certainty" is as far as he’ll go, at least in print.

Sadly, this is not the first time the issue of arson has come up. Nearly 200 people have been left homeless by fires in just this single city district in the last year and a half. (Three have also died.) More than a quarter of those were from just one fire, the five-alarm blaze on the 3300 block of Mission (which is actually in Bernal Heights) on June 18.

The city’s fire chief, Joanne Hayes-White, testified at a city meeting on Wednesday that density and overcrowding are more likely culprits that criminality. Mission homes are old, close together, and may be hosting more people than they were designed for, "six or seven to a unit."

She also said the cause is usually bad wiring, put under too much stress by crowding.

Still, Campos observes that the same fires that are so tragic for tenants may sometimes be boons for landlords, who can build potentially more profitable homes in the fire’s wake or sell the precious land to developers who are ever more hungry for a piece of the Mission these days.

These economic realities are not themselves incriminating, of course. But you can’t stop people from wondering.

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s fire map says that the Mission is the city’s second busiest juncture for building fires. From January 2001 to April of this year, there were 2,788 blazes in the neighborhood, almost nine percent of the citywide total of 31,007. Only the Bayview burns more often.

That data seems to be incomplete, though. For example, the map shows only five five-alarm fires since 2001, but Fire Department data released in April of last year (in reply to a journalist’s records request) indicate seven. The Fire Department doesn’t break fires down by neighborhood, the murky boundaries of which make such data sets hard to define.

It’s not unusual that a large, densely populated residential neighborhood would have more building fires. But Campos claims that the Mission is seeing more than three times as many fires now as in the past, going from 3.3 percent of total blazes in 2005 to 9.4 last year.

The neighborhood’s overall population actually shrank considerably during those years, although most figures on the neighborhood‘s population aren‘t recent enough to account for the last three years.

The Fire Department insists that this seeming uptick is a statistical illusion, created by a decrease in fires in almost every other neighborhood. Although that does seem to leave the question "Why the Mission?" still dangling.