Almanac

News - May 12, 2010

Bathroom remodeling starts fire at Belle Haven house

by Dave Boyce

Firefighters think that hot solder ignited the paper backing of wall insulation in a one-alarm fire that partially destroyed a one-story, three-bedroom home being remodeled at 1131 Menlo Oaks Drive in Menlo Park's Belle Haven neighborhood on Friday, May 7.

One of two contractors working in the house at the time suffered minor smoke inhalation injuries and a scratch from one of three cats he had gone back in to rescue, said Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

"That's admirable, but it almost cost him," Chief Schapelhouman said of the contractor's rescue effort. "Those contractors got out in the nick of time. ... The fire just got big very fast because of the spread in the attic."

The couple who bought the home two months ago were away. The fire caused about $150,000 in damage to the structure and $10,000 to $15,000 to the contents, the chief said.

The contractors had been sweating solder onto a pipe and some dripped through a hole where the pipe came through the wall, the chief said.

Firefighters got the call at 3:56 p.m., arrived three minutes later and had it controlled by 4:15, Chief Schapelhouman said. In all, about 15 firefighters were involved.

"This one was what I call a bread-and-butter fire," Chief Schapelhouman said, referring to the routine way of fighting it. Firefighters got on the roof and cut out a big hole to allow hot gases and smoke to escape and improve the visibility inside, where other firefighters could then pull the ceiling down and get at the flames in the attic, the chief said.

The contractors had "bailed out of the front door," called 911, and one of them went back in for the cats, all of which are considered safe, the chief said.

The home will be unlivable for a number of months, he said.

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