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Torches probed as cause of SF blaze

– San Francisco fire investigators on Wednesday were looking into whether torch work was to blame for a massive blaze that barreled through an apartment building construction site, threatening nearby buildings, prompting evacuations and forcing officials to call in about half the city’s on-duty firefighters.

As fire crews doused hotspots in the charred remains of the block-long apartment complex, city officials said they narrowly avoided a catastrophe in an up-and-coming neighborhood near the Giants’ AT&T Park.

“I think we’re very lucky that the fire didn’t jump anymore,” Mayor Ed Lee said.

The exact cause of the fire – one of the city’s largest in recent years – was under investigation. But fire officials were looking into preliminary reports that workers were doing torch work at the site shortly before the fire was reported around 5 p.m. Tuesday, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said.

The five-alarm fire created a plume of black smoke that was visible for miles and led to the evacuation of nearby buildings, as about 150 firefighters were called in to contain it. One of the walls of the burning building collapsed about an hour after it began.

“We were hoping that we could contain it as quickly as possible,” said firefighter Stephen Maguire, whose crew was among the first to arrive.

Firefighters had to take a defensive stance because the building was leaning in some areas, he said.

The blaze cracked windows on an apartment building across the street and sent an ember onto the roof of a University of California, San Francisco building in the neighborhood. It also briefly spread to scaffolding at another construction site.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries.

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