Fire damages University Avenue home

Roof collapses, but residents escape unharmed

A fire at 1005 University Ave. caused heavy damage to the two-story home Friday morning and prompted responders to close a portion of University to traffic for most of the afternoon.

Smoke and flames shot out of a second-story window at the Crescent Park neighborhood home, according to Roger Bloom, Palo Alto deputy fire chief. The fire was reported shortly after 7 a.m. As of 9:30 a.m. the blaze had been largely contained, though some portions of the house continued to smolder for most of the afternoon.

Firefighters reopened the street to traffic at about 4:20 p.m.

The residents of the two-story, blue-green shingled Craftsman-style home at 1005 University Ave., at Hale, were able to escape.

Resident John Beamer said he woke up to the heat and smoke at about 7 a.m.; a fire had broken out in the room next to his bedroom.

He awakened his father, mother and grandmother.

"We tried to put it out at first because it was contained to one piece of furniture, but we couldn't do it," he said, dressed in a shirt, shorts and no shoes and standing outside his home.

"Everybody got out safely. My mom, dad, grandma and our dog," Beamer said.

Firefighters forged a three-pronged attack against the blaze, shooting streams of water from three hoses, including from a fire ladder, into the windows and collapsed roof.

Bloom said firefighters attempted to combat the fire from within the structure, but after 15 minutes the attic had caught fire and there was a potential for the roof to collapse. Several live electrical wires were dangling.

"We pulled out our crews for safety and went to a defensive fire attack," Bloom said.

Mountain View, Menlo Park and Santa Clara County fire personnel joined the Palo Alto Fire Department in battling the blaze. In total, five engines, three trucks, two battalion chiefs and 38 fire personnel responded to the blaze, Bloom said.

The structural integrity of the home was compromised after the roof collapsed, he said.

"We will do a full investigation of the structure before letting anyone in," he said. "The cause is under investigation."

Officials initially said an unattended candle started the blaze. Beamer would not comment on what might have started the fire.

Silicon Valley Red Cross volunteers came on scene immediately after they heard about the blaze, Norm Berube, a Red Cross volunteer, said.

They provided immediate assistance to the residents. Beamer's mother and grandmother watched their home burn from the corner. They sat in beach chairs and were swaddled in blankets provided by the Red Cross. They appeared concerned, but otherwise unharmed.

The Red Cross will help the family with clothing and other necessities and can provide hotel lodging for a few days, Berube said.

"Ten to 12 times a month we come out to house fires in the county," he said.

Traffic was being diverted from University onto Hamilton Avenue via Chaucer Street. It had backed up on University to the U.S. Highway 101 overpass. Access to University at Seneca Street was also closed off.

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Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2010 at 9:51 am

Thank you. I was wondering what all the smoke and haze was. I woke up to the smell of smoke,

Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2010 at 9:56 am

Yes, thanks. My daughter smelled smoke when she left for school, and was worried. She heard rumors at Paly. I was glad to be able to text her this more reliable information.

Glad to hear that no one was injured, but sorry about the extensive damage. Ugh.

Like this comment
Posted by SafetyMinded
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2010 at 11:00 am

You'd think that one chair could be put out, depends I guess what it is made of. Bad stuff in chairs to breathe. Glad all people and pet got out safely, Sad that they lost the house.
Did they have smoke and fire detectors that were working? Easy to forget to check batteries, but many types start beeping if they are getting low on battery.
Every house should have a hand-held fire extinguisher on each floor. And check them yearly- combine it with updating earthquake preparation. Glad fire did not impact other residences.
Check your batteries and detectors NOW!!

Like this comment
Posted by If I had more dough
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2010 at 11:32 am

Makes me want to donate $$ to the Red Cross.

Like this comment
Posted by Anoma Lee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2010 at 11:40 am

Are these the firefighters whose salary/benefits the city wants to cut?

Like this comment
Posted by peace'n'quiet
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2010 at 11:42 am

We should close University Avenue permanently. It's so peaceful around here now.

Like this comment
Posted by Winslow Briggs
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2010 at 2:58 pm

The fire was directly across Hale Street from our home (480 Hale St.). Thank goodness for our firefighters! The room where the fire started literally exploded outward with a frightening burst of flames. A firefighter on a lader to those windows fled back down but wasn't injured, than heavens. I don't blame the firefighters for retreating! They did their absolute best. I have a truly scary picture of those initial flames.

Like this comment
Posted by qq
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2010 at 3:29 pm

A good reason to have everyone in your home know where the fire extinguishers are. You do have a couple don't you? ;-)


Like this comment
Posted by Frances Strong
a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Sue, thank you for your excellent (thorough and caring) coverage and photos of this fire, which you produced at such an inconvenient hour. That old house means a lot to me; as do the people who live in it who have done such a remarkable job of taking care of it.

Like this comment
Posted by Reluctant Siliconer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2010 at 5:14 pm

QQ, A portable fire extinguisher can save lives and property by putting out a small fire or containing it until the fire department arrives; but portable extinguishers have limitations. Because fire grows and spreads so rapidly, the number one priority for residents is to get out safely. (From a fire dept. website).

Like this comment
Posted by Onlooker
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 17, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Thanks so much to the Red Cross for helping families who affected by fires. They all need our financial support so they can continue this vital work.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2010 at 11:23 pm

That's a terrifyingly vivid photo and really impresses how fast a fire spreads. Definitely get fire extinguishers, and keep fresh batteries in your smoke detectors too.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of University South
on Sep 18, 2010 at 10:10 am

I have to completely agree with Reluctant's comments. Be very careful about trying to use an extinguisher to fight a fire, because extinguishers really aren't designed for large fires and homeowners have been killed trying to do so. You ABSOLUTELY should get training in how to use an extinguisher if you plan on using one - the time to figure out how to pull the safety pin is not when there are flames in front of you. Joining a neighborhood emergency group like PANDA can provide these lifesaving lessons:

Web Link

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