Press Release – March 20, 2019 Menlo Park Fire Protection District - Structures on Fire

Published on Mar 21, 2019 at 08:16a.m.

7th Avenue - North Fairoaks Area of Unincorporated San Mateo County

Captain Ken Babcock wets down a hot spot at the fire on 7th Avenue – Credit Fire Photographer Peter Mootz

Menlo Park Firefighters work to fully extinguish several buildings that were on fire on 7th Avenue – Credit Menlo Fire

At 1127 am, Tuesday, March 19, 2019, San Mateo County Public Safety Communications (PSC) received multiple calls of smoke coming from the backyard of  a residential structure on 7th Avenue, located in the Unincorporated Area of North Fair Oaks. Menlo Park Fire District Truck 1 with Acting Captain Dave Bragg and crew arrived on-scene at 1131 am and reported heavy fire coming from several structures to the rear of the uninvolved main house. Acting Captain Bragg stated that they were getting mixed reports of people still in the structures and he and his crew of three would be investigating those reports.

Menlo Fire Engine 3 arrived on-scene at 1132 am with Captain Tim Bogner and crew. They immediately deployed two 1-3/4 inch attack hose lines with Truck 1’s crews assistance that were needed to protect the main street side structure and extinguish three buildings and an RV that were on fire. Battalion Chief Chris Pimentel arrived on-scene at 1133 am and assumed command of the incident.

After receiving a report from Truck 1 that no one was actually trapped inside the structures and that the involved buildings were free burning and significantly involved in fire, Chief Pimentel declared the fire as “defensive” meaning all firefighting would be done safely from the outside of the structures. He then requested a second alarm be dispatched and staged out from the fire, a block away, in case the fire continued to spread threatening other structures and more property.

Redwood City Engine 11 was directed to the 6th Avenue, or rear side of the involved property. Additional Menlo and Redwood City fire units were used to protect and defend other unburned structures, conduct secondary search operations, provide for salvage operations and used to eventually overhaul of the fire, which was fully brought under control at 1151 am. A total of 5 Engines, 1 Ladder Truck and 2 Battalion Chiefs with 21 personnel responded on the first alarm. An additional 4 Engines, a Rescue, Ladder Truck and 2 Battalion Chiefs composed of an additional 20 personnel responded as part of the second alarm. Most were quickly released when it was determined the fire was not spreading beyond the three original involved buildings and recreational vehicle (RV) that were burning.

Three Menlo Park Fire District Investigators arrived on-scene and attempted to determine what had occurred in order to establish a cause and the origin for the fire. It was determined that the primary structure was un-occupied at the time of the fire with the last occupant having left at least twenty minutes prior to the discovery of the fire. Unfortunately, the structures were so significantly damaged and destroyed, that the cause is “undetermined” and the exact location of where the fire started is “unknown”.

A total of five adults and a child were displaced by the fire. The Red Cross was notified to respond and assist these individuals but they could not be found when the representative arrived on-scene. County Building Inspectors responded to assist Fire Investigators. Discrepancies in code compliant building standards were identified and a quick records review of permitted structures on site only identified a smaller main home and no secondary structures. All structures were “red tagged” meaning they cannot be occupied until determined to be safe and code compliant. PG&E arrived on-scene and was directed to pull both the gas and electrical meters.

All units were released from the fire scene at 3.31 pm. A Menlo Fire unit regularly revisited the site every three hours, using a thermal imaging camera to determine if any hot spots existed and to insure that a rekindling of the fire would not occur. The dark smoke from the fire was easily seen across the County and around the Peninsula. No civilians or firefighters were reported to have been injured during the fire.

Fire Chief Schapelhouman said “our first arriving unit was on-scene in under four minutes once we were alerted to the fire. Battalion Chief Pimentel quickly escalated and then released the second alarm units on “potential” while also making sure he didn’t put anyone inside the structures during initial fire attack once he knew no one was trapped and in need of rescue inside these buildings. Our firefighters are always under greater risk and danger due to the potential for structural collapse, flashover and burn injuries when we have such a severely burned out and weakened structure that is fully involved and free burning on our arrival. Our Fire Investigators today estimated that the combined structural damage at over $100k and contents at $30k. They will also be following up with the County on code compliance and actual permitting, which are always a potential underlying concern in North Fairoaks. We understand and are sympathetic to the housing challenges and shortage, but potential illegal, non-permitted and compliant buildings can, and have, injured and killed residents and firefighters”.

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