Menlo Park Fire Protection District firefighters responded to three separate fires in three hours Thursday afternoon (June 4), including a Menlo Park encampment fire in the same area as a larger blaze late last month.
The first fire was reported shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday, when Acting Battalion Chief Jason Martin was waved down by a man who pointed to smoke coming from an encampment fire behind Extra Space Storage at 1520 Willow Road, according to a press release from Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.
The small fire was quickly extinguished, Schapelhouman said. The fire was in the same general location as a 10-acre blaze on May 22. Smoke from that fire could be seen and smelled for miles, and after the incident Schapelhouman expressed concern about it being the latest in a series of fires in areas of the Baylands where homeless encampments are established.
"This area and the frequency of these incidents have been becoming a larger and more complicated problem and risk for years," he said last month. "As firefighters, we can’t solve the larger social issue that tends to not only be uncomfortable and rarely discussed, but certainly isn’t being solved here."
The cause of Thursday's fire is under investigation. It is the third suspicious and "potentially 'set' fire" in the last two weeks and the fifth fire in the last month in that area, Schapelhouman said. He added that the district has responded to nearly 100 emergencies in the Baylands encampments in the last three years.
The other two fires were in East Palo Alto.
Emergency dispatchers received a call at 2 p.m. reporting black smoke coming from a building behind a house at 897 Bell St. Firefighters arrived three minutes later and found a structure fire in a 500-square-foot studio building behind the main house.
Two people escaped the studio, and firefighters kept the blaze from spreading to the main residence. The fire was brought under control at 2:23 p.m., and investigators determined it was caused by a malfunctioning refrigerator, Schapelhouman said. Estimated damages are $50,000.
At 3:39 p.m., a call came in reporting a grass fire in a field behind an apartment complex at 1730 Bay Road. When firefighters arrived, they found a 2-acre vegetation fire in an area "almost completely surrounded by residential structures and apartment complexes," Schapelhouman said.
The blaze spread into a bamboo stand and burned an eight-vehicle carport behind the apartment complex. It was brought under control by 6:25 p.m. Investigators believe the fire may have been caused by fireworks set off by youth, Schapelhouman said.
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer Sue Dremann contributed to this report.