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Firefighters Forced To Tap Into San Francisco Water Reserves To Fight 5-Alarm Blaze

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- As flames danced from one commercial building to another early Tuesday, San Francisco firefighters were faced with a dilemma as they battled the conflagration -- they had run out of hydrants.

When deputy fire chief Victor Wyrsch, who heads up field operations for the San Francisco Fire Department, arrived on the scene of the blaze along an entire block of commercial buildings on 13th Street, he was faced with several challenges.

The blaze was rapidly spreading from building to building. The structure where the blaze began was collapsing. There were power lines on the ground and transformers were toppling off power poles.

"I got here on the second alarm," said deputy fire chief Victor Wyrsch. "It was fully involved, the fire building, and rapidly moving into the second building -- a rapid spread," he said. "We had huge problems on the Geary St. side with power lines. We actually had transformers falling onto the ground. I had to back everyone away."


As the blaze advanced and grew to 5 alarms, firefighters were able to halt it before it damaged a commercial structure owned by the San Francisco Sheriff's Department and containing boxes of live ammo in the basement.

Wyrsch faced an even greater challenge -- getting enough pressure and water flowing to fight the flames.

"We had to use our high-pressure system, we didn't have adequate water, the people saw this at the very beginning," Wyrsch said. "We exceeded all the hydrants."

As the 160 firefighters -- roughly half of the city's available firefighting capacity -- were staging their intense battle, Wyrsch was forced to run through the checklist of tapping into resources to get them enough water.

"We used our Jones Street tank and we went up to our Ashbury Street tank and now we are flowing water all the way from Twin Peaks," he said as firefighters gained control of the blaze. "We got a hundred million gallons going."

Water pressure and easy access to firefighters has been a source of debate in the city since a fire raged through the Marina District following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

When the hydrants were overwhelmed and buildings were burning, a brigade of local residents helped run hose lines to the San Francisco Bay where they were connected to a fireboat that began pumping much needed water to fire crews.

On Tuesday, Wysrch first tapped into the Jone Street Tank which has a total capacity of 750,000 gallons and is located at 1239 Jones Street in the city's Nob Hill neighborhood.

Then he turned to the Ashbury Tank which has a total capacity of 500,000 gallons and is located at 1234 Clayton Street in the city's Ashbury Heights neighborhood.

Finally, Wysrch was forced to tap into one final source -- the Twin Peaks Reservoir located on San Francisco's Twin Peaks hilltop. It is made up of a 10.5-million-gallon storage reservoir.

Fortunately, it was enough as the blaze was 90 percent contained by 10:30 a.m.

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