Fire chief: No one died in Atherton house fire


Investigators searching for possible victims in the abandoned single-story house at 29 Shearer Drive in Atherton that was destroyed in an April 1 fire found no human remains.

The 3,000-square-foot house had had its utilities shut off, raising questions about how the fire might have started. Because the house had a basement, firefighters considered the possibility that someone, perhaps a transient, had been camped in there, said Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

The district employed a dog and handler trained in finding human remains -- a duo that's part of the district's Urban Search and Rescue Team.

After the basement was pumped clear of the 4 to 5 feet of water that had collected there, the dog found no indications of a human victim, the chief said.

"Our official determination at this point is that we are calling this a 'suspicious' fire," the chief said. "We are familiar with this location, we've had a fire in this vacant home before, there is no power to this building and we will be working closely with the Atherton Police Department to investigate this incident. Vacant structures with no working utilities don't just catch themselves on fire."

Firefighters turned control of the site over to the Atherton Police Department. The town's Public Works Department fenced the site and had red-tagged it for demolition within 24 hours, the chief said.

Basement a risk

Firefighters arrived at the house shortly before 5 a.m. on April 1 and found it engulfed in flames, the chief said. With 16 firefighters from the Menlo Park district and the Redwood City Fire Department fighting the blaze, it was extinguished by around 9:45 a.m, the chief said.

On the scene were four fire engines and a ladder truck, along with the battalion commander's vehicle. One engine company stayed behind for the rest of the day to watch for re-ignition and to work with the fire investigator and Atherton police, the chief said.

Knowing about that basement and the potential for the first floor to collapse under the weight of a person led the battalion commander to the decision to fight the fire from outside the building, the chief said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 3, 2015 at 1:12 pm

Knowing the Town of Atherton - I am guessing, not matter what this will called accidental. Although the new Chief seems to call it what it is, history tells me the officers will call it "accidental" case closed.

1 person likes this
Posted by O
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2015 at 2:22 pm

Same story. My dad's house was vacant for 40 years on Matadero Ave. My elderly mom was unduly influenced by the caregivers. Then the house burns down. No insurance. Now, a new one is being built by the caregiver's friend. Amazing.

Like this comment
Posted by Westside Trucker
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 6, 2015 at 9:25 am

Why did Atherton allow this eyesore to remain empty for over 40 or 50 years!!

Like this comment
Posted by O
a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Over 40 years? I said my parent's house in Palo Alto was vacant for 40 years. I don't know why. I called City of Palo Alto several times a year. It's a free country. One day, Dad got caregivers. Dad passed. Caregivers unduly influenced my mom. I complained loudly and then the house burnt down. Caregivers brought in their General Contractor and my mom gave him permission to build a new house using his own money. Mom doesn't have liquid cash.

This morning, April 13th, I went to the Palo Alto police to request the police report. I'm not allowed to have it because I'm not the victim. I'm a caring advocate. Doesn't matter. No one investigates elder fraud, elder abuse unless the elderly victim wakes up and realizes they are a victim. Deputy District Attorney Janet Berry said, statistically, family members are more suspect. True but there's also a smaller percentage where family members try to honestly protect the elderly and they are given no rights. Elder fraud is a huge issue in the Bay Area and probably across the state.

I'm highly interested as to why this house burnt down and how it started.

Like this comment
Posted by O
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2015 at 7:32 pm

Only in the NFL and other major sports would someone get punished for possibly violating rules. Case in point: "it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware". Shouldn't the same rules apply in real life? Too expensive to tear down an old house for the old owners? Torch it, light it up, arson it! No one cares. There's no follow up here. There's no curiosity on the Palo Alto house fire. Case closed. A builder is building. City of Palo Alto is happy. CSLB is happy, everyone is fuc**** happy, even the elderly couple with dementia are happy. All one really needs is a contractor's license and maybe toolbox. As long as no one dies, you got yourself a job building. No one cares! Unlike the NFL where a slightly flat ball will cost you millions!! and start a media uproar.

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

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