When employees at the Peet's coffee shop next door smelled smoke and gas fumes coming from the restaurant in the early morning, they called 911; Menlo Park Fire Protection District firefighters arrived at the scene at 4:45 a.m., according to a press release from Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.
The firefighters made their way into the restaurant and found it full of white smoke from a smoldering and melted garbage can that was sprayed by an overhead sprinkler, Schapelhouman said.
Firefighters checked the premises and did not find any fire in the walls or the attic space; a cleanup of the area was completed by 5 a.m.
A check of a surveillance camera showed smoke starting to rise from the garbage can at 2 a.m. before it caught fire after 4:30. It was extinguished by the overhead sprinkler, Schapelhouman reported.
Firefighters determined that the incident was caused by discarded towels that had been used to clean up grease and oils in the kitchen and that caught fire spontaneously.
Investigators were surprised that the water flow from the sprinkler system did not activate an alarm system, according to the fire chief.
"The sprinkler water suppression system, quick action of the Peet's employees in calling 911 and fire crews that minimized further damage, saved the day today insuring that this business will be back up and serving the community in days, not months, as we have experienced in other commercial business fires in this area," he wrote.
About half of older buildings in downtown Menlo Park are still not equipped with fire suppression systems and are extremely vulnerable to fires and the rapid spread of fires, according to Schapelhouman.