Two-alarm fire blazes through East Palo Alto home


Click on photos to enlarge and see captions.

By Sue Dremann

Embarcadero Media

A 9-year-old boy who was playing fort in the garage accidentally started a fire that gutted the family home after he dropped a candle onto a mattress, Menlo Park fire officials said on Tuesday, July 31.

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District and Palo Alto and Redwood City firefighters responded to the two-alarm fire at 2:30 p.m. in the 100 block of Jasmine Way, which is near the outlet of San Francisquito Creek and the baylands. When they arrived the boy's mother was distraught and the family home and a neighboring house were ablaze.

The mother believed her son was still in the garage, Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said. The boy had been playing in the closed garage in a tent that was set on a pile of mattresses when the fire began. He became scared when the mattresses ignited and shouted for help through the door between the house and garage. His sister opened the door and screamed when she saw the thick smoke.

The children's mother and an infant were asleep in a bedroom at the time and awoke to the girl's screams. She ran to garage to find her son, but the smoke was so thick she could not see him.

The boy had already run halfway down the street and was banging on neighbors' doors. Someone down the street took him in, but his mother was not aware that he had escaped. She tried unsuccessfully to get into the garage, possibly for a second time, but burned her arm during the attempt, Schapelhouman said.

When the fire began to spread rapidly, the mother returned to the home to retrieve her baby and fled the residence. Neighbors tried to control the blaze with garden hoses but were unsuccessful, Schapelhouman said.

The fire spread to the neighboring house, in which an elderly disabled woman was stuck in her bedroom. Her hired caregiver fled during the blaze, which burned the home's eaves, leaving the woman behind, said Douglas Murphy, one of the neighbors who helped fight the fire with a hose, and the woman's son.

She was removed from her home by firefighters and was not injured. She was able to return to her home after the fire was extinguished, Schapelhouman said.

Firefighters administered oxygen to a long-haired dachshund named Brutus that was rescued by the department from a back bedroom in the gutted residence, Schapelhouman said.

The oxygen was given through a special mask for pets that was part of a donation the department had received. The dog was not burned but suffered smoke inhalation, firefighters said. He was to be cared for by the Peninsula Humane Society.

"The good story is that everyone survived and there weren't any serious injuries. But the sad story is that this house is a loss. They have lost all of the contents and two vehicles -- they've literally lost everything," Schapelhouman said.

He did not know where the residents would be staying, but the Red Cross had been notified, he added.

Schapelhouman said the fire was accidental, but it highlights a critical message he hopes the public will heed. It's almost a cliche about kids being unsupervised around any kind of fire. But such a fire is almost predictable "unless you really teach these kids the power of fire," he said.

"He was just having a good time. If I was a 9-year-old, I would probably be doing the same thing playing in a fort or tent," he said.

The fire department will have two persons on fire watch at the house all night until about 7 a.m. to make sure the fire does not re-ignite. They will use a thermal imaging camera in each room to seek out hot spots, he said. The home had blown-in insulation, which also burns rapidly and can re-ignite, he said.

Firefighters responded in force because the neighborhood has had many tragedies in the past. The homes are older and are frequently surrounded by fencing, burglar bars and guard dogs, making approaching difficult when time is crucial, he said.

"This is the town where we've had a number of fatal fires. One of the largest fatal residential-structure fires in the U.S. was in this community, where nine people out of 13 living inside died -- five of which were children," he said.

"There are a lot of people living in a lot of houses because of the economy. We have to act fast. When you're here at a fire and you're pulling bodies out, it's a sad, sad day," he said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Lisa
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2012 at 9:24 pm

I was there to witness the fire. What a brave family to go through that horrifying trauma. I am so incredibly relieved and happy to know that the boy had escaped. Hallelujah! My love and support goes out to the family.
Correction---the house address was 132, not 127.
Lisa Lynn

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2012 at 9:53 am

I'm glad that everyone escaped relatively unscathed - including the dog. What a disturbing story - thinking your child is in the burning building. And the neighbor's caregiver fleeing, leaving the disabled woman alone? Clearly it all could've ended much more tragically.

Like this comment
Posted by Close to Home
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm

If a community organization gets involved in raising funds to help this family, I hope The Almanac will follow up with details for anyone who wants to contribute. Thank heaven they're all alive but I'm sure they are devastated.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2012 at 2:13 pm

What's needed for the family - do you know? I know that finding housing after a fire can be a nightmare.

Isn't there homeowners' insurance? I know that doesn't always kick in as fast as needed.

Like this comment
Posted by Ishea Ventura
a resident of another community
on Aug 14, 2012 at 12:43 pm

This Is the story of how your life can change instantly. That was our home. We loved it. I worked so hard to get what we had.

We had been homeless for 2 years, living in homeless shelters and now we are back in this position. I am a single mother trying to make the best of this situation, but it Is truly hard.

I am blessed that I did not lose my son, that was the worst feeling I had ever felt. I would like to thank the nice people who have donated to my family. We are truly in need of everything, still. If you would like to make a donation to my family, there Is a donation account at Stanford credit union. We would really appreciate it.

Thank you for your support. Ishea Ventura

Like this comment
Posted by Poster
a resident of another community
on Aug 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm

The message below was posted on Palo Alto Online:

Posted by Felicia Ventura, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Aug 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Hi All,

As some of you may know, Tuesday, July 31, 2012 my sister Ishea Ventura and her children (Dominique 15, Precious 11, Jordan 9, Sanaa 1 and Mekayla 3 months) lost their home in a house fire. Not only did they lose their home but they also lost their car, so when I say they lost everything I mean they lost everything. I am reaching out to the community and my friends to see if I can get help for them in this time of need. They are accepting and very appreciative of any kind of donation, clothing, household items and of course money. She is a single parent on a fixed income. Obviously this has been a very tragic event for them, and they have an extremely challenging road ahead of them.

An account has been set up at:

Stanford Federal Credit Union

Relief Fund for Ventura Family Fire

14220434 (member number-please include this number when making donations)

Mail donations to:

P.O. Box 10690

Palo Alto, CA 94303-0843

Walk in locations:

525 University Ave. Suite 21 694 Pampas Lane

Palo Alto, CA 94301 Stanford, CA 94305

If you have any questions or need to contact me my phone number is 408.469.7516 or you can email me at

Thank you and God Bless

Felicia Ventura

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Aug 14, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Felicia- if you join the local FreeCycle, you can ask for items as well as look on the list for items she can use.

Are any of the local churches or nonprofits helping as well?

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

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