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The Price of Mission Fires Doubled Last Year

In case you weren't already mad about 2015

Supervisor David Campos raised a few alarms last week when he intimated that arson might be behind the apparent uptick of building fires in the Mission. The potential culprits? Landlords, eager to rid themselves of aging housing stock and potentially unwanted tenants.

That’s the most sinister scenario, anyway. Campos was careful not to make any concrete allegations, lacking a smoking gun. (Or torch, in this case.) Fire officials insist that there need not be any conspiracy at work, saying that the flare-up of Mission flare-ups is just the result of statistical laws, older homes, and overcrowding.

Previously, we noted the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s map of building fires citywide, and their assessment that the Mission is one of the most combustible neighborhoods in the entire city.

They followed up on that with some calculations of how much Mission fires have cost over the last 10 years, including a potentially explosive conclusion: The amount of property damage from Mission fires nearly doubled in 2015.

The price tag for the neighborhoods roughly 26 alarms in 2014 was over $7 million. 2015 saw only two extra fire calls, but reported losses were over $13.7 million. That’s almost as much as the previous four years combined.

It was not the worst year for fires in recent memory; 2011 saw 37 alarms in the neighborhood, affecting nearly 400 units. But it was by far the most expensive.

What’s behind this dire leap? Property values are constantly going up, of course, which naturally increases what building owners can reasonably report as losses. And much of the new construction that’s happening is worth more to begin with (although it’s usually older buildings that are burning).

In truth, though, most of the damage appears to be the work of a single fire, the four alarm 22nd Street blaze on January 28 of that year. That disaster alone accounts for nearly two thirds of the neighborhood’s yearly total, reported at more than $8.6 million.

At the time, it was the fourth most costly fire in the entire city for the previous 14 years, according to fire department records. Two of the remaining three were in 2014, including the enormous, $40 million China Basin blaze, making that one of the worst years on record citywide.

So it could be that the Mission’s fire bill is just a terrible statistical anomaly. Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White says that the apparent spike in the number of fires is a fluke too . But that won’t convince everyone. Maybe when 2016’s sad total is added up it will provide more insight.