The fire started at around 1 p.m. and was extinguished by 2:30 p.m. It caused an estimated $200,000 in damage to one house and around $5,000 to the second, according to Menlo Park Fire Battalion Chief Ben Marra. He said that the fire in the 2700 block of Georgetown Street may have begun in a grassy, fenced-off 50-yard-wide easement behind the homes.
Witnesses said a UPS worker went into the home to warn the residents.
Soane Valnikoll, who lives at one of the Georgetown homes, said that he was playing video games and watching his nephew when he heard his smoke alarm beeping.
"A UPS guy came into the front door and warned us to get out," Valnikoll said. His sister carried his nephew outside, where they saw embers and ash raining down from the sky.
Efrain Rueda Jr. said he saw a tractor that was cutting the grass in the easement behind the houses just before the fire started.
From eyewitness reports and evidence on the scene, flames burned most of a 15-foot tall tree, catching the roof of the home and the adjacent structure on fire. A shed in the back was completely burned, and personal belongings were strewn across the backyard. Many of the windows in the back of the house were shattered.
Rueda said that he heard four loud explosions, making him believe that there were some propane tanks in the back that had caught fire. He said fire trucks arrived at the scene minutes after the police.
Marra said it was unlikely that the tractor was involved in the fire.
Fire investigator Jon Johnston said that the fire was unusual because it started outside of the home rather than inside.
"When you're outside, you have to look at your sources of emission and find out why something started outside," Johnston said.