Menlo Park house destroyed in three-alarm fire

No one is injured; dog suffers smoke inhalation

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 only injury was to a 2-year-old Labrador Retriever that firefighters rescued from inside the house at 1 Chateau Drive. The dog had been exposed to smoke inhalation and had about a 50 percent chance of surviving, said Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

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.

Bay City News Service contributed to this report


Like this comment
Posted by Harold Schapelhouman
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 16, 2008 at 3:41 pm

To the Menlo Park B-Shift Firefighters - Great Job!

To the Automatic Aid Firefighters from Redwood City, Woodside, Palo Alto and San Carlos Belmont - Thank you for the assistance.

To the homeowners - We're all glad your ok and were not in the house. If there is anything else we can do for you never hesitate to contact me personally.

To the neighbors - Sorry for the disruption and thank you for your hospitality and kind words.

To the City of Menlo Park - We need to work together on adopting a residential sprinkler ordinance for the City. Together I know we can get there!

Harold Schapelhouman, Fire Chief

Menlo Park Fire Protection District

Like this comment
Posted by Crane St. resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 16, 2008 at 3:42 pm

To the MP Firefighters, can't thank you enough! I'm so glad you're just around the block, and appreciate all the kind words you always express to interested children.

And thank you for the special care of the poor dog. I hope he pulls through.

Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Portola Valley
on May 17, 2008 at 10:05 am

I'm so glad you are okay. How is your dog doing? I hope he is doing fine. I couldn't tell from the photo, but did the fire fighters have a special pet oxygen mask to use? If not, maybe some of us could get together and donate one to the fire department.

By the way, the photo of the fire fighter and the dog captured the moment eloquently.

Like this comment
Posted by trudy
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 18, 2008 at 4:08 am

I hope the dog is okay. I was also wondering why no oxygen.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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