Almanac

News - January 2, 2013

Menlo Park fire displaces two on Christmas Eve

by Sandy Brundage

Between floods and fires, Menlo Park firefighters were almost as busy as Santa on the days leading up to Christmas.

A little before 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, they heard a report of an apartment fire on Roble Avenue. Arriving about three minutes later, according to Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman, they found a first-floor apartment burning.

The unit's tenant called 911 after a grease fire started in her kitchen and climbed up and through the cabinets despite her attempts to smother the flames with baking soda, Chief Schapelhouman said. The blaze swept through the walls to a second-floor apartment and attic before it was extinguished by firefighters who had used thermal imaging to track its path.

They then maintained watch on the complex from about 8 p.m. until early Christmas morning to make sure the fire didn't reignite.

No one was hurt, but the fire caused an estimated $35,000 in structural damage and destroyed $15,000 worth of property within the apartment. Residents of the first- and second-floor apartments were displaced.

The firefighters were already familiar with the eight-unit complex at 815 Roble Ave. — they battled a blaze in its carport in September. A bank robber had ditched a red Honda Accord and then set it on fire while fleeing police.

Chief Schapelhouman said that the Christmas Eve fire was the second one involving an apartment complex within a few days for the district. An early morning fire on Dec. 22 in East Palo Alto saw firefighters rescuing a woman trapped on the second floor. Seven tenants were displaced from the three damaged units; damages were estimated at up to $195,000. Investigators said an unattended pot in the kitchen probably caused that fire.

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