By Chris Cooney
Bay City News Service
A Valentine's Day fire at a home for veterans in East Palo Alto in which one resident jumped from a second-floor window to escape the flames was particularly dangerous because the house was not up to code, a fire chief said.
Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District said Tuesday that state building and fire code violations were factors in the Feb. 14 fire at 1208 Bay Road, which displaced 14 veterans living there.
The fire district and the East Palo Alto building and planning departments have been conducting an investigation into the two-alarm fire.
Fire investigators determined that the blaze started at about 4:40 p.m. when one of the residents went to boil some eggs but mistakenly ignited a stovetop burner with a pot of oil and grease on it.
The fire quickly spread through the house, trapping several residents on the second floor. One jumped out of a window, and others were helped out with a ladder.
No one was injured, but the fire destroyed most of the veterans' belongings and the home.
Investigators determined that the 11-bedroom home was privately owned but rented on behalf of the veterans by the nonprofit group Homeless Veterans Emergency Housing.
Building officials said the home should have been classified as a boarding house because it housed more than six people, and should have been equipped with two legal exits from the second floor, a sprinkler and alarm system, and tools to help with an emergency exit, according to Schapelhouman.
"We were very fortunate that no one was injured or killed during this fire," Schapelhouman said in a statement.
"Arriving on the scene of a home with elderly veterans jumping out of windows is not acceptable and cannot be allowed to happen again," he said.
Homeless Veterans Emergency Housing did not immediately return a call for comment.