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Arson Investigators Probe San Francisco Castro District Fires

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS/BCN) - Two fires that broke out within a block of each other in San Francisco's Castro District early Thursday morning were believed to have been intentionally set, a fire spokeswoman said.

The two second-alarm fires, one reported shortly after 5 a.m. at 3620 16th St. and the other at about 5:30 a.m. at 3943 17th St., each originated on the exterior of the buildings, San Francisco fire Lt. Mindy Talmadge said.

Investigators are also working to determine whether the fires are related, Talmadge said.

"There are a lot of common factors," she said. "The most obvious are the time and location, and both of those fires' point of origin was on the exterior."

The 16th Street fire displaced 13 people, nine from 3620 16th St.  and four others from an adjacent building at 3626 16th St., she said.

A firefighter suffered a minor ankle injury while battling the blaze, which was extinguished at about 6:05 a.m., Talmadge said.

The other fire broke out at 3943 17th St., an empty building under construction, and spread to an adjacent building at 3945 17th St. before it was extinguished as of 7:15 a.m., she said.

The family living at 3945 17th St. is on vacation, and officials do not know how many people living in that unit will be displaced, Talmadge said.

The Bay Area chapter of the American Red Cross is assisting residents who have been displaced by the fires, spokeswoman Melanie Finke said.

A small trash fire was also reported in the area earlier Thursday morning.

The fire was found in a trash can in a locked area behind a building at 2248 Market St. and was quickly extinguished, according to Talmadge.

The  happening at the same time sent firefighters scrambling from elsewhere in the city to cover firehouses left empty by crews that responded to the blazes.

"With two alarms worth of companies in an immediate area, it leaves the rest of that area fairly unprotected, so we pull companies from other parts of the city to cover," Talmadge said.

Having two such fires going on at the same time is "unusual but it's happened before," she said.

She said the incidents were "a great example of all the talk about keeping our fire stations open, because we can't have companies gone in a case like this."

Investigators were working Thursday to determine the cause of the fires and exactly how much damage they caused, she said.

Anyone who has information about the case is asked to call the San Francisco Fire Department's arson investigators at (415) 920-2937.

The Police Department is also investigating the case, Talmadge said.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)

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