Atherton: Suspicious fire destroys abandoned house


There is little left of a 3,000-square-foot single-story home at 29 Shearer Drive in Atherton. A fire, first reported around 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, April 1, destroyed the house and left it uninhabitable.

The house had been abandoned and the cause of the fire is under investigation, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District said. It's the second time the home has burned, though the first time -- about a year ago -- the damage was limited, he said.

He called a second fire that destroys an abandoned home at night "highly suspicious." The electricity had been shut off, he said.

There were no known injuries, but the home does have a basement. The fire district has arranged for a visit by a dog trained to detect human remains -- a cadaver dog, in firefighting parlance. Someone, perhaps a transient, may have set up housekeeping there, Chief Schapelhouman said.

Knowing about that basement and the potential for the first floor to collapse under the weight of a human being is one reason that the battalion chief did not send firefighters inside to fight the fire, the chief said.

All told, the one-alarm fire drew five engine companies, one fire truck and one battalion chief to fight it, the chief said. One company stayed behind after the fire was out to watch over the remains in case it reignited.

Atherton's public works department is fencing the site, he said.

The 911 call went out shortly before 5 a.m. When firefighters arrived, the fire was well along, what firefighters call a working fire.

Finding and fighting a working fire is not unusual in Atherton because properties are large and often well screened by vegetation, reducing the chances for early visual detection, the chief said.

Firefighters have not yet calculated monetary damages.

— Dave Boyce

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