Scary Brush Fire Burns Grass, Damages One Home in South Bernal



Late yesterday afternoon, several Bernalese reported seeing a grim column of smoke rising from the skies of south Bernal, around I-280.

The cause was a brush fire, which spread quickly around Ellsworth, just south of Moultrie. The Chronicle reported:

Reports of the blaze near the corner of Ellsworth Street and Alemany Boulevard came in around 3 p.m., said Mindy Talmadge, a Fire Department spokeswoman.

One home on Moultrie Street sustained some damage, though Talmadge said that portion of the fire was put out quickly. The fire was contained around 4 p.m., and the cause was under investigation, Talmadge said.

Close call. Note also that when we zoom and enhance the dramatic photo above, as captured by Daniel Harper, we see some Bernal neighbors frantically using a hose to keep the flames at bay. Yikes:


PHOTO: Top and detail, Daniel Harper


51 thoughts on “Scary Brush Fire Burns Grass, Damages One Home in South Bernal

  1. I’m near some CalTrans land as well. Doesn’t seem like they ever clear the brush which is a major fire hazard and just helps fuel larger and hotter fires.
    Anyone know a recommended firewall size to clean between your house and brush?

    • do you like this advice?
      I suppose when you said 100 feet based on this article, you are not talking about creating a 100 foot sand pit between your house and anything that is living but rather dead brush should be cleared up to 100 feet with some evergreen features to help fight off the fire.
      If I did 100 feet every year that would wind up being really expensive and time consuming and I wonder what the neighbors would think. I might find some dead bodies out there too.

      • We just clear brush and weeds. All of the properties are inspected bt the fire department. Haven’t seen any pits.
        Most of us clear our property. Some people hire crews to do the clean up. Costs about $150

      • 100 feet of “defensible space” is the CDF mantra out where I am from too. Means no underbrush and other good fuel.

  2. This is a yearly occurrence, happens 3-4 times like clockwork before the 4th of July. We live about 2 blocks away, and have witnessed it since 2001. A Bernal tradition of sorts- one I’m sure adjacent neighbors don’t enjoy.

  3. Who owns the land? Some maps show that land divided into parcels, but I can’t get the assessor’s office site to show me anything. Glad it wasn’t worse and no one is hurt—guessing the insurance company of the damaged home will find the answer to my question.

  4. Annual 4th of July reminder: DO NOT let your friends set off fireworks/light sparklers on Bernal Hill! Report anyone who does!

        It’s tough getting firefighters up that hill if there is a fire and besides the place is always packed for the 4th. please talk to anyone you see setting off fireworks.

  5. Very scary. Saw this on 280. Nothing but smoke. One of the last times this happened, it was caused by people who live in the Alemany Projects. Maybe the police need to check it out if they haven’t done so already.

  6. Been at the South end of Bernal for almost 20 years. I think only two years without a hill fire threatening our house. Almost all on or near July 4th. ALmost all fires started by fireworks. We have been evacuated from our home twice by emergency responders. Police are not the solution. Not unless they would guard the hillside 24/7 for the month before and after the July 4th holiday. I have a suggestion, let’s have a fireworks party at the Alemany “housing development”. Encourage everyone to show up on the ALEMANY side, every night for the week before July 4th and the night of, have emergency personnel on hand in case of injury, and let everyone show off and blow off. Bow off all their bottle rockets and roman candles etc….on the street side and avoid the hill fire. Amnesty not arrests or citations. Officially LOOK THE OTHER WAY, because to unofficially look the other way and not respond to fireworks complaints but having to resond to hill fires and homeowners having to pay higher insurance premiums after having survived that damage JUST ISN’T WORKING!

    • Gary, you seem very sure that the fireworks users are Alemany residents. Do you have evidence?

      I’ve seen neighbors and their guests light small fireworks on my street. I do not live in Alemany, but rather in North Bernal: houses here regularly go for over a million. Igniting cones and sparklers on asphalt is nowhere near as dangerous as shooting rockets on a hillside covered in dry grass, but we aren’t far from the hill. Besides the sparklers/etc. on my street, I’ve also been at the top of the hill on the fourth of July, and heard people cheer when people shoot off illegal fireworks up there. The people doing the cheering looked like a normal mix of younger Bay Area people. There seems to be a generalized lack of understanding of the danger of fire, and yes, a lack of enforcement.

      • There is nobody else living there EXCEPT Alemany housing residents, don’t get your feathers all a ruffle about this being racist, it isn’t, it is about keeping the hill from burning

  7. If you call 311, you can put in a request to have someone from the assessors office call you back and tell you the name and mailing address of the property owners of the parcels. Here are the Block/Lot numbers from
    Vacant lots on East side of Moultrie

    West side of Moultrie
    5811/018 small structure
    5811/019 small structure

      • We have done that. The city even sends notices, but no teeth in the law. They have no means to fine them or make them clear the brush, the city cannot go onto private property and clear as there are liability issues if an employee gets hurt, so the brush grows, and the fires continue

  8. We just got chased out of our house by a fire that was started by Alemany residents setting off fireworks. All the hoses smell of smoke now, and I know from experience that my kids will cough for days and the smell won’t leave for weeks. I called our NON Supervisopr David Campos about the upcoming fire issue two weeks ago. I asked for something to be done about fire works, and notifying the SFFD about the construction at the end of the hill which would make it more difficult to get to the source of the fire. Did I even get the courtesy of a returned phone call? That would be a resounding NO! Maybe I am cynical, but I feel if this was an immigrant rights issue he would be all over it! Anyone else feel that way?
    Anyway….I contacted Ingleside station, the officer that answered the phone had some good advice. She told me that they cannot patrol 24/7 at the Alemany Housing Development, and that WE were their eyes and ears. SO, squeaky wheel gets the grease, all you south Bernal residents, if you hear the pop of one single solitary blackjack firecracker CALL 911, if you hear tires squealing in the middle of the night, CALL 911, if you see anything even slightly suspicious CALL 911, tell your neighbors, tell your friends. Lets get something done about this. Fires EVERY SINGLE YEAR, and so far TWO FIRES THIS WEEK?? How long before our drought stricken hillside burns to the point of someones house going up in flames or an injury or a death???

  9. There were actually three fires originating from the Alemany dry grass last week. About four hours after the fire last Thursday, the deck at 761 Anderson caught fire from embers blown by the wind which landed on back deck of my next door neighbors’ house. Thanks to neighbors who saw it (the family was not home at the time) 911 was called and SFPD arrived quickly and extinguished the fire. Also, the next morning the neighbor of that house discovered that there were smoldering embers in the flower box on the front her her house. She doused it with water and is all ok now. But they had substantial damage to their deck.

    Does anyone know about the goat thing? How do we get that going?

    • Goats don’t eat dry grass. And you can’t put goats onto private property without the owner’s permission. Those lots are private.

  10. Here’s a couple of the owners, of the properties closest to Ellsworth above the public housing:
    East side of Moultrie:
    5811/024 (885/889 Moultrie) “Cortses, Fany” mailing address 2235-3rd St suite W419 SF, CA 94107
    5811/023 (891/893 Moultire) 95% “Yu, Anna Yan Tao Fung” mailing address 1282-36th Ave SF, CA 94122
    West side of Moultrie:
    5810/021 (890/898 Moultrie) “Fang, Wei Ming” mailing address 1282-36th Ave SF, CA 94122

    • These owners need to keep their grass fire proof. Multiple mowings or rounds of goats per fire season.

    • From a simple community organizing assessment, pressuring the owners (and pressuring the City to pressure the owners) to reduce the fuel load is likely to be more expeditious that pressuring the residents of the public housing (and pressuring the City to pressure those residents) to stop their fireworks shenanigans.

  11. Vacant lots on East side of Moultrie
    5811/028 (873/881 Moultrie) YU ANNA YAN TAO FENG
    5811/027 (875/883 Moultrie) YU ANNA YAN TAO FENG
    5811/026 (877/885 Moultrie) YU ANNA YAN TAO FENG
    5811/025 (881/887 Moultrie) CORTES FANY
    5811/024 (885/889 Moultrie) “Cortses, Fany” mailing address 2235-3rd St suite W419 SF, CA 94107
    5811/023 (891/893 Moultire) 95% “Yu, Anna Yan Tao Fung” mailing address 1282-36th Ave SF, CA 94122

    West side of Moultrie
    5810/016 (866 Moultrie) SERRANO RAMON
    5810/017 (868 Moultrie) FENG WEI MING
    5810/018 (882 Moultrie) small structure PARKE AMY K and PARKE THOMAS R
    5810/01 (888 Moultrie)9 small structure MCGLONE FRANCES E
    5810/020 (886/892 Moultrie) FENG WEI MING
    5810/021 (890/898 Moultrie) “Fang, Wei Ming” mailing address 1282-36th Ave SF, CA 94122

    Clearly the Yu/Fang family is buying up the whole area, likely for a big multi-unit development.
    Smoking or burning out all their neighbors isn’t a nice way to pave the way for future neighborhood support of their development plans.

    • The proper spelling is FENG, WEI MING and it is possible that person owns the properties I listed for CORTES FANY as well. Or FENG, WEI MING once did and CORTES FANY bought it from Bank of America in a default.

  12. Just wanted to speak up that 882 and 888 Moultrie are not empty lots, both have houses that were in danger of burning down on Thursday. This is our first 4th of July in Bernal and I must admit, pretty scary hearing that these fires are a regular occurrence.

  13. been here almost 20 years, the city has no way to enforce having the owners clear their brush if they don’t want to do it. So why not enforce the laws we do have (no fireworks) instead of trying to pass new laws (clear your property) and you would not believe the bureaucracy to get brush cleared, health department, then fire department then DPW all have to be involved, and like I said… teeth to bite the property owners with.

    • I respectfully disagree Gary. First off, I’m not talking about new laws, but existing regulations. Second, in my experience, DBI has been very responsive to neighborhood complaints. One of the Feng’s properties already had a lien against it from the City. The City can clean up the property and bill to the owner. Now that there has been property damage in the recent fire, I’m sure the fire department will be (more) amenable to pressuring the property owners to keep the grass trimmed. And the owners themselves should be sued for damages from the recent fires due to negligent maintenance of their property. You’ve got their addresses, all the concerned neighbors should be writing them letters. Short of hiring a Patrol Special Officer or other rent-a-cop to police the lot, you’re not going to stop the fireworks.

  14. Crump, I have been told by the city attorney (more than one over the years) that the city CAN NOT go onto private property and clean it up. Liability laws if an employee gets hurt for one reason. (Obviously in an emergency they can and do enter private property) Also filing a lien against a piece of vacant property does not motivate the owner to clear the brush, it is cheaper for them to clear the lein when they sell or build (alth these pparcels have been empty for 30 or 40 years since purchase). The city has no laws on the books to TAKE the property, that would likely get action from some of the owners. I am not interested in stopping the fireworks, just the fires. So we can spend money on irrigation. Not feasable. We could get goats. Who is going to pay for them? Or we could simply encourage the people in the housing development to go to the ALEMANY side and shoot their ordinance at the cement street!

  15. Continuing to look into this guy, sadly I find a bunch of stupid lawsuits involving him as either plaintiff or defendant.
    In point of fact, the McDonaghs, the OConnors and whoever else didn’t sell these properties to Feng Wei Ming until 2005.
    Here’s his current business
    Ming Wei Remodel Co
    (415) 519-7782
    (415) 519-7783
    1282 36th Ave San Francisco, California 94122
    possibly also 3215 Folsom St San Francisco, CA 94110

    My bottom line is one can complain about it and bemoan the situation, or one can identify solutions and take action. If I lived adjacent to these properties, I’d be taking action. As it is, I live 1.5 miles away so I’ll bow out now. Cheers and good luck.

  16. Would like to see an aggressive public awareness campaign about this next year: signs posted all over the hill and surrounding neighborhoods about the fire hazard, including information about the penalties for use of open flames/fireworks. What are those penalties, btw?

    Sounds like some people have evidence that fireworks are shot off from the Alemany projects. It’s clear to those of us on the other side of the hill that the problem is not limited to that area. It’s also clear that uncleared dry brush makes the situation even more hazardous, but even with some clearing, fireworks would still endanger all of us who live here. Three fires already this year? I’m worried.

    Who would I speak to about starting this kind of public awareness campaign?

    • CAll your Supervisor. Call The President of the Board of Supervisors. Call the SFPD, call Inglesidde station and talk to the Captains office. Call the SF Housing authority. Call anyonme you know in the press. Email all your friends and neighbors. SOmeone mentioned something in a previous post about penalties for shooting off fireworks?? HAHAHAHA. Don’t be so naive. Do you really think the SFPD has the manpower to cite or arrest people for THAT?? Nor should they take the time.
      As to moving or clearing the brush on the hillside as an earlier reply mentioned. Some of these lots are on a 60 or 80 degree slope, no mower can go there, Again, knowing who owns the property is useless, the city cannot clear the brush, and IF they file a lien when the property changes hands they pay the lien and it was cheaper than hiring crews each year to clear the lots

  17. Here’s something that WAS done in this instance which IS effective: a witness to the fireworks wrote down the vehicle license plate # of the people setting off fireworks and provided the information to the Arson Investigator who responded. Hopefully SFPD can apprehend, and the courts can impose penalties.

    • The only problem is that dead grass and dead weeds are much more flammable than live ones.

      I’m not recommending that anyone do this, BUT, if my house were adjacent to an empty lot that is so overgrown and out of control that it poses a danger to my house, I’d hop the fence every few weeks with my weedeater, cut it all and bag it myself. Yes, it’s not legal, not fair, etc., but if the alternative is hoping/waiting/complaining for someone else to do the right thing… good luck with that.

      • True, you’d have to bag the first batch, but hopefully they won’t grow back for a while—at least that’s the idea. Whether this product in particular can do much more than attract Japanese beetles I have no idea, I certainly wouldn’t recommend anything stronger.
        Short of visqueen, BAJATOs suggestion is really the only surefire one.

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