Fatal fire on Embarcadero deemed accidental

Investigators from Arson Task Force, Coroner's Office find two possible ignition sources for Palo Alto fire

The house fire on Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto that claimed the lives of two men Friday night was accidental and started in the kitchen, investigators determined.

Palo Alto officials announced Monday night that investigators from the city and from the regional Santa Clara County Arson Task Force concluded that the fire at 988 Embarcadero Road started in the kitchen and then spread to the rest of the house, ultimately engulfing about 50 percent of the 1,300-square-foot home. Because of extensive damage, investigators could not determine the exact origin of the fire. They did, however, find two possible ignition sources near the site of the fire's origin: an electrical appliance and cigarette-smoking materials.

The fire was reported at about 7:15 p.m. Firefighters arrived within four minutes and extinguished the fire within 10 minutes. By that time, however, the fire had claimed two victims: Donald Schoennauer and his best friend, Ed Martin, both 64. Officials found what they believe to be Martin's body in the kitchen and Schoennauer's in the living room, Nickel said.

"He probably didn't have the physical strength to get out of the house," Nickel said, referring to Schoennauer, whose mobility was limited by a physical condition.

Nickel told the Weekly officials believe that the many books, papers and other combustible materials found throughout the house contributed to the speed with which the fire had spread. Nickel said there was a "tremendous amount of combustibles in the house."

According to the city's announcement, the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office examined both victims Tuesday. While the coroner's investigation remains pending, officials had determined that "there is no indication of homicide or suicide."

Both men had graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1967.

Related story:

Two dead in Palo Alto house fire are identified


Like this comment
Posted by Linda M
a resident of another community
on Jan 14, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Rest in Peace Don and Ed.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Triple El
on Jan 15, 2014 at 8:53 am

The Council should find out how much overtime the police and fire departments incurred investigating this simple kitchen fire.

1 person likes this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 15, 2014 at 10:21 am

@Neighbor -
We have a tragedy where two men die by fire in their own home and all you can come up with is a slur on public safety officers about the possibility that the investigation may have incurred overtime pay for the officers involved.
Too cynical for me by half.

1 person likes this
Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 15, 2014 at 10:44 am

It might not have been a simple kitchen fire at first glance.
Eliminating potentially suspicious circumstances takes time.
The council likely doesn't care about O/T anyhow. Small potatoes for them.

RIP to the two victims and condolences to their kin.

1 person likes this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2014 at 11:17 am

Where has the empathy and compassion gone in people and for people? Clearly, it was not about the money for those that risk their lives every day to protect, serve and save the lives of others. This was an enormous tragedy and closure for the family and understanding far out way how much it cost...
This makes me very sad........ Condolences to the family and to the first responders..........

1 person likes this
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 15, 2014 at 1:28 pm

As much as I value economy and, being born in 1938, remember deprivation, I think it is exceedingly "penny wise and pound foolish" to make some of the comments I see here. The clutter and too many books and papers, however, I will personally take to heart.

1 person likes this
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 15, 2014 at 7:05 pm

A terribly, terribly sad story.

1 person likes this
Posted by Called it in
a resident of Triple El
on Jan 16, 2014 at 1:00 am


"Simple kitchen fires" don't involve 20-foot flames, a demolished interior and two dead people. The beginning may have been simple, but the end results were not. For reasons that will probably never be completely clear, this fire burned way out of control very quickly.

As for the time it took. Yes, the fire dept. and police watched the house overnight. Why? Because it was filled with hot spots and near several other homes. They waited until Sunday to investigate when it was safe to do so. They completed the investigation within a day.

As for overtime, well, the fire happened on a Friday night. In case you hadn't noticed, Fridays are followed by weekends. That said, I wouldn't assume there were vast amounts of overtime involved. Many people have weekend shifts. Unlike you, most of us are aware that bad things happen outside of standard office hours.

Your continuing need to use this tragedy for your own agenda is ugly. It upsets me--I can only imagine what it's like for the families of the victims who have my deepest condolences.

1 person likes this
Posted by certainly sad
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 20, 2014 at 10:07 pm

I knew him quite awhile, and he was a good man.

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

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