A fire that started in a garage destroyed a single-family, two-story house Thursday evening, May 15, at the corner of Chateau Drive and Valparaiso Avenue in Menlo Park.
The fire chief would not disclose the names of the couple who live there. They were out to dinner when the fire started, he said.
The fire caused about $1.3 million in damages, including destroying a Lexus automobile in the garage, Chief Schapelhouman said. The fire also slightly damaged the house to the rear, about 20 feet away from the one that burned, he said.
The home next door was six feet away but was not damaged, the chief said.
As requested by the wife, firefighters did find and recover the couple's wedding album, the chief said. They also brought out a wedding ring.
Firefighters had the fire under control by about 7:40 p.m.
A fire crew suited up at about 6:30 p.m. after a pedestrian banged on the door of the firehouse two blocks away at Oak Grove Avenue and Hoover Street and said that he saw smoke coming from the first and second floors of the house, the chief said.
A battalion chief on Interstate 280 called in at about that time to report seeing smoke rising from that vicinity, the chief said.
Three minutes later, firefighters carrying hoses kicked in the front door and entered the house, the chief said. Three firefighters worked the first floor, three worked the second and three more looked for occupants, he said.
About 45 firefighters were on the scene within 15 minutes, including 12 engine companies, three ladder trucks, a breathing support unit and several battalion chiefs. Emergency vehicles with red lights flashing packed Valparaiso Avenue between Crane Street and El Camino Real.
Firefighters fought the fire in shifts of 12 firefighters each, the chief said. The second floor was particularly difficult. "The smoke and heat up there was really pushing our guys back," he said.
"There was zero visibility and it was pretty hot," firefighter Rob Johnson said in an interview. The daytime temperature had been in the 90s.
The attic was also ablaze, but firefighters could not fight it from the inside, the chief said. They fought the flames from up on the roof, but were ordered down when a roof collapse seemed a possibility.
The fire began with a "small explosion" in the garage, where the husband had been refinishing an entertainment center, the chief said. Fire investigators concluded that the combination of volatile vapors, a hot car engine, a 98-degree day and the pilot light from the water heater were instrumental in the fire starting, he added.
The garage door burned completely, as did the car. The gas tank probably did not explode, the chief said.
A fire watch was set at about 10:45 p.m. and lasted all night, the chief said.
Chief Schapelhouman used the opportunity to advocate for a residential sprinkler ordinance in Menlo Park. This house was too old to have had them installed, but a rebuilt house should have them, he said.
He advised against wood-shake roofs, as this home had and the other similar homes in this area have. Such roofs help to create "communities built to burn," he said.
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