Ronald Booker was watching television in his Bayview apartment late one night in March when he heard a commotion coming from Third Street nearby. There were often people congregating on the street, he says, so he didn’t think anything of it.
Then he heard the fire engines, and saw the smoke seeping under his kitchen door.
“I realized I’d have to go back into the building and down the front stairs, or else jump off the second-story balcony,” he said. “And I ain’t got no business jumping from that high.”
So Booker took a flying dive across his bed and scrambled outside – just minutes before the blaze destroyed everything he owned.
“I ran out in just my little flip-flops and a pair of pants. … Money, my car keys, my clothing – everything else just went up in flames.”
Today, Booker, 68, occupies a small studio apartment in Visitacion Valley. His deposit and a new bed and dining table were paid for by the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund.
The four-alarm fire, which took more than 130 firefighters to contain, could not have come at a worse time. (Police thought the suspicious blaze may have been set by someone with a grudge against the landlord, but no one was charged.) Booker works as a security guard, and had just signed on to work during the Giants season that was about to start.
“I couldn’t go to work because my uniform had gone up in flames, and I didn’t have anywhere to live anyway. So it put me in a real bind.”
A local rehab center took him in for a few weeks, until he could relocate to his current apartment, which is cramped but comfortable.
Booker, amiable with a sly grin, retains the soft drawl of his native Virginia. He came to San Francisco in 1965 while in the Navy and was stationed at Hunters Point; when he got out, he married and started a family.
His daughter now lives in Louisiana, along with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and he’s estranged from his son. He lives alone, though he doesn’t seem to be lacking for female companionship.
At one point, he says, he spent two years in Alaska – working security at a hospital in Anchorage – after a brief visit to a girlfriend became an extended stay.
“My daughter said, ‘It’s too cold up there to visit, and if you die up there I’m not coming to get you,’ ” he recalled with an indulgent chuckle. “I said, ‘You would say something like that, wouldn’t you.’ And she said, ‘Dad, I’m just telling you the truth.’ ”
Booker still works security when the jobs are there, and supplements his income with Social Security. He’s a regular at the Dr. George W. Davis Senior Center in Bayview-Hunters Point, where he considers himself a pretty formidable competitor at dominoes.
But the fire in March, he says, set him back profoundly.
“I lost my DD214, which was my release from the service. I lost my kids’ and grandkids’ birth certificates, all the pictures I had. It’s like I never even existed, except for the people who have known me that long.”
The original article can be found here.