News

Family escapes two-alarm house fire in East Palo Alto

Afternoon blaze destroys home, spreads to neighboring residence

A 9-year-old boy who was playing fort in the garage of a family home in East Palo Alto Tuesday accidentally started a fire that gutted the house after he dropped a candle onto a mattress, Menlo Park fire officials said.

Menlo Park Fire Protection District, Palo Alto and Redwood City firefighters responded to the two-alarm blaze at 2:30 p.m. on the 100 block of Jasmine Way, which is near the outlet of San Francisquito Creek and the baylands. When they arrived the boy's mother was distraught and the family home and a neighboring house were ablaze.

The mother believed her son was still in the garage, Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said. The boy had been playing in the closed garage in a tent that was set on a pile of mattresses when the fire began. He became scared when the mattresses ignited and shouted for help through the door between the house and garage. His sister opened the door and screamed when she saw the thick smoke, Schapelhouman said.

The children's mother and an infant were asleep in a bedroom at the time and awoke to the girl's screams. The mother ran to the garage to find her son, but the smoke was so thick she could not see him, Schapelhouman said.

The boy had already run halfway down the street and was banging on neighbors' doors. Someone down the street took him in, but his mother was not aware that he had escaped. She tried unsuccessfully to get into the garage, possibly for a second time, but burned her arm during the attempt, Schapelhouman said.

When the fire began to spread rapidly, the mother returned to the home to retrieve her baby and fled the residence. Neighbors tried to control the blaze with garden hoses but were unsuccessful, he said.

The fire spread to the neighboring house, in which an elderly disabled woman was stuck in her bedroom. Her hired caregiver left during the blaze, which burned the home's eaves, leaving the woman behind, according to the woman's son and Douglas Murphy, one of the neighbors who helped fight the fire with a hose.

She was removed from her home and was not injured. She was able to return to her home after the fire was extinguished, Schapelhouman said.

Firefighters administered oxygen to a long-haired dachshund named Brutus that was rescued by the department from a back bedroom in the gutted residence, Schapelhouman said.

The oxygen was given through a special mask for pets that was part of a donation the department had received. The dog was not burned but suffered smoke inhalation, firefighters said. He was to be cared for by the Peninsula Humane Society.

"The good story is that everyone survived and there weren't any serious injuries. But the sad story is that this house is a loss. They have lost all of the contents and two vehicles -- they've literally lost everything," Schapelhouman said.

He did not know where the residents would be staying, but the Red Cross had been notified, he added.

Schapelhouman said the fire was accidental, but it highlights a critical message he hopes the public will heed. It's almost a cliché about kids being unsupervised around any kind of fire. But such a fire is almost predictable "unless you really teach these kids the power of fire," he said.

"He was just having a good time. If I was a 9-year-old, I would probably be doing the same thing, playing in a fort or tent," he said.

The fire department will have two persons on fire watch at the house all night until about 7 a.m. to make sure the fire does not re-ignite. They will use a thermal imaging camera in each room to seek out hot spots, he said. The home had blown-in insulation, which also burns rapidly and can re-ignite, he said.

Firefighters responded in force because the neighborhood has had many tragedies in the past. The homes are older and are frequently surrounded by fencing, burglar bars and guard dogs, making approaching difficult when time is crucial, he said.

"This is the town where we've had a number of fatal fires. One of the largest fatal residential-structure fires in the U.S. was in this community, where nine people out of 13 living inside died -- five of which were children," he said.

"There are a lot of people living in a lot of houses because of the economy. We have to act fast. When you're here at a fire and you're pulling bodies out, it's a sad, sad day," he said.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Da'Shante
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 31, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Oh hello no! Again ? paloaltoline.com done way too many stories making us out to be fools. Are we going too take this treatmint?


Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
- More quotations on: [Justice]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by JW
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 1, 2012 at 8:37 am

No one's making you out to be an idiot. It was an accidental fire.
Of course, one must wonder why a boy was playing with such a dangerous trifecta: a tent, a mattress, and fire, while his mom slept, but kids will be kids and not always be aware of consequences.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

Poor kid. Fifty years down the road, family will still be reminding him, "Hey, remember the time you burned down the house?" So fortunate that nobody was seriously hurt. Maybe the firemen left a good impression and the boy will find his calling in emergency services.

A well-written article; I could visualize the events unfolding. The sister, the mother, the baby, neighbors with garden hoses, the dog, the elderly disabled woman. All like right out of Central Casting.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Cid Young
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2012 at 10:52 am

I hope that the next door neighbor's family FIRES the A$$ of the home caregiver who left her disabled woman in the home during the blaze.
The Po-Po should investigate that incident!
DISGUSTING & UNBELIEVABLE!
like the captain of the Italian Cruise Ship that went down, leaving the ship while passengers were still on board!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2012 at 11:07 am

@ Cid Young

I completely agree...that's the only part that I really focused on - what's up with THAT?!?!

..and about Da'Shante...you sound more like the idiot with your comment There was nothing in that article that made anyone in EPA sounds stupid. Kids will be kids - my daughter, at the age of 6, decided to put a knife in a socket and got the mess shocked out of her.
You can't predict what kids will do when you are not looking, but it shows how much we have to watch and teach our kids about the dangerous things AND people around us.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by me
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2012 at 6:50 am

Great job MPFD, PAFD, & Redwood City Fire!!! You guys were amazing!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Felicia Ventura
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Thank you for the well wishes, I am the sister of the person who lost everything in the fire. She is a single parent and its going to take alot to get back on her feet. I want to also thank the families who brought out baby formula and diapers for my sister's 2 infants because everything helps. I an working on getting an account set up for her for donations and will keep everyone posted. Everyone is ok so far including Brutis and Cupcake. Please keep us in your prayers. If you are interested in helping out please email me at felicia.ventura@sbcglobal.net.

Tanks again,
Felicia


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Felicia Ventura
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Thank you for the well wishes, I am the sister of the person who lost everything in the fire. She is a single parent and its going to take alot to get back on her feet. I want to also thank the families who brought out baby formula and diapers for my sister's 2 infants because everything helps. I an working on getting an account set up for her for donations and will keep everyone posted. Everyone is ok so far including Brutis and Cupcake. Please keep us in your prayers. If you are interested in helping out please email me at felicia.ventura@sbcglobal.net.

Tanks again,
Felicia


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Felicia Ventura
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Hi All,

As some of you may know, Tuesday, July 31, 2012 my sister Ishea Ventura and her children (Dominique 15, Precious 11, Jordan 9, Sanaa 1 and Mekayla 3 months) lost their home in a house fire. Not only did they lose their home but they also lost their car, so when I say they lost everything I mean they lost everything. I am reaching out to the community and my friends to see if I can get help for them in this time of need. They are accepting and very appreciative of any kind of donation, clothing, household items and of course money. She is a single parent on a fixed income. Obviously this has been a very tragic event for them, and they have an extremely challenging road ahead of them. Below is the link from paloalto.com about the fire.

Web Link

An account has been set up at:
Stanford Federal Credit Union
Relief Fund for Ventura Family Fire
14220434 (member number-please include this number when making donations)

Mail donations to:
P.O. Box 10690
Palo Alto, CA 94303-0843

Walk in locations:
525 University Ave. Suite 21 694 Pampas Lane
Palo Alto, CA 94301 Stanford, CA 94305


If you have any questions or need to contact me my phone number is 408.469.7516 or you can email me at felicia.ventura@sbcglobal.net

Thank you and God Bless
Felicia Ventura


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