Fire on Selby Lane in Atherton damages garage and deck

by Contributed Content on January 5, 2017

Update: “Our investigators have determined that the cause of the fire was fireplace ashes that were removed from the home two days ago and placed in a cardboard box that was left on a table on a back patio table next to the home,” said Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman. “We believe that this was an accidental fire caused by an unintended human error. The fire caused an estimated $50k in structural damage and $5k in property damage.

“It also isn’t the first time we’ve seen this type of incident, fire place ash should be removed periodically, placed in a metal can and soaked in water. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen, but the good news is the fire was discovered early, damage is minimal and no one in the home was injured.”

Menlo Park Fire responded to a middle of the night fire in the rear of a large, two-story residential structure on Selby Lane in Atherton and quickly determined that all residents were out of the building.

A garage and deck were on fire; it was knocked down by fire personnel within 10 minutes of arrival. The  fire had also charred the exterior of the hone up to the second story, so an extensive check for fire penetration into the home’s attic and walls was done.

Battalion Chief Ben Marra stated: “We responded with five engines, one ladder truck and two Battalion Chiefs for a total of 21 personnel and the call was held at one alarm… we are thankful that no one in the home was injured.”



CK January 06, 2017 at 5:05 pm

Chief Schapelhouman, let me understand this over kill on response to this fire. A total of 21 personnel responded? Let me see, the recently hired fire personnel are getting paid approx. $165,000 per year being rookies, and who knows how much the “2 Battalion Chief’s” are getting paid, but to have the need for 21 persons with five engines, a ladder truck, and who knows what else….is this really a good use or a necessary use of personnel/equipment…..or justification for your new “fire house’????

Vivian January 07, 2017 at 7:32 pm

This was my home. The response was totally appropriate and professional. I am very grateful for the help from the Menlo Park Fire Department. While we were able to limit the overall damage, this fire had the very real potential to envelope the entire house in very short order. Seven people were in the house sleeping at the time the fire exploded into the house from the back patio. The response was NOT overkill.

Craig January 08, 2017 at 2:06 pm

Rather testy on the overkill comment, for someone who placed hot cinders in a cardboard box and put it on the patio!!!!
My point was directed to the City FD and their use of over paid personnel. I understand the need for a fire department, but not necessarily a over paid one. But then, living on “Selby Lane” in Atherton……”what difference does it make”!

Selby Neighbor January 11, 2017 at 4:01 pm

Craig it’s unfair to call the personnel over paid. A salary of $165,000 may seem high, but we have middle school teachers earning $140,000. This area’s cost of living requires that the public employees get paid a premium wage. We are victim of our city’s success. And being a firefighter is difficult work. These people are responding to all sorts of calls, including train accidents – it takes its toll.

As far as overkill, yes in hindsight 21 personnel is excessive for essentially a barbecue type fire. But when you’ve got a panicking homeowner calling 911 and reporting an explosion of fire and who knows what else, it warrants a large response team.

I’m familiar with this house on the edge of the Redwood City border. Selby Lane is not as you imply, yes there are some large newer estates but there are also some modest homes. This 1950’s home is a faux colonial with common grade wooden siding, most likely pine. These are tinderboxes under the right condition. Add to that elderly and not entirely mobile residents sleeping upstairs, and the fire department is well within reason to respond with a large crew. While I agree with you that it doesn’t take 21 personnel to douse a patio fire, and the Fire Chief admitted as much by stating there was not much more than charred paint and a 10 minute wash down, it’s nice to know Menlo Park FD has the ability to respond quickly!

Craig January 13, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Since I grew up not far from this location, I too am familiar with Selby Lane’s location and where it borders RWC. Even though you are down sizing this particular home by it location, as far as property taxes collected, it is considered “Atherton”. It may not be like the mansions built by the Silcon Valley or Facebook crowd, but still it is taxed according to location within the city limits.
My point on the salaries for the fire personnel is that the fire fighters association (unions) have negotiated with the city for these exorbitant salaries. They continually budget for more personnel, with total disregard for who is paying the bill.
So, when I observed that “21” personnel responded to a patio fire with all that expensive equipment, I was wondering why the FD need to do that. Was it really a good use of the tax payers money. I know the Chief has been pushing for a new fire house…..more personnel etc., but I question his common sense. Maybe the city council and mayor should be asking these questions at the next budget meeting???

Selby Neighbor January 13, 2017 at 3:51 pm

I agree the city should indeed be looking at the expenses. And we both agree it doesn’t take 21 firefighters and several trucks to put out a minor fire – and one that was both preventable and negligent. But as the saying goes, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer couple (if you take the word of the Sharon Heights County Club members and management).

I’d expect that kind of fire personnel response on a fully engulfed structure. But it’s worth remembering that less than 2% of all fire calls are for house fires, the overwhelming majority are medical calls and public safety. Thus maybe the fire personnel got a bit overly enthusiastic when they were called to an actual fire as opposed to a flooded intersection.

I think where it gets sticky is in the area of liability. You’ve got a city council listening to fire experts about staffing needs, it’s tough to tell them they have over calculated the need for public safety because an emotional response such as “do you want to be safe” puts the council in a tough spot.

If you’re a Menlo resident, be thankful Atherton is footing a significant part of the fire budget. If you’re an Atherton resident, I think the argument might be better framed as why does Atherton pay such a large share for a relatively small number of incidents.

Craig January 15, 2017 at 4:50 pm

Selby Neighbor-
For what our children are getting from education system and the NEA, 140K is too much too!

Selby Neighbor January 16, 2017 at 8:42 am

Couldn’t agree more. And let’s not forget the 2 month Summer break, and the holidays.

Craig January 17, 2017 at 11:30 am

Sounds like we are on the same page…..if you ever have any historical questions about Atherton/Menlo area from the 50’s through the 90’s…..I resided in the geographical area of same for many of those years. Just drop me a note.

Todd January 12, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Menlo Fire is not over paid, it is paid according to the budget as approved by your elected officials. It is not the job of the Fire Chief to make an economic decision on each and every fire call.

This particular property is located in Atherton. According to it is located at 160 Selby Lane, Atherton (Thomas O’Down and Vivian Kral). As Atherton residents, they pay a parcel tax part of which funds the Menlo Park Fire District. There’s been much discussion regarding Atherton’s “share” of Menlo Fire’s expenses, a large part of that expense being the salaries of the firefighters. It’s been proven that an Atherton resident pays far more than a Menlo Park resident for services such a fire protection. In short, Atherton is subsidizing Menlo Park – a point which does not sit well with some of Atherton’s residents.

While the Krals nearly won a 2017 Darwin Award (you’ll have to Google that), their tax dollars provide a disproportionate share of Menlo Fire’s operating budget, which ultimately benefits you. Instead of bemoaning the overpaid personnel, you should be thanking Atherton for paying for our fire service.

NB January 10, 2017 at 2:23 pm

21 personnel for a patio fire does indeed sound like overkill. Then again, it’s good to at least have the fire personnel working if they have no other urgent calls. Their annual salary is not relevant, they are paid regardless of the nature of the work.

But the bigger question has to do with common sense. Vivian, who in the right mind puts hot ashes into a combustible box near a combustible structure? Was alcohol a contributing factor here?

As far as a so called “very real potential”, this sounds over the top. Doesn’t everything have a very real potential? Or are there moderately real potentials, and mildly real potentials? And enveloping the entire house on short order after an explosion? Wow. Thus is sounds like a supermarket tabloid report. House fires do not explode on to a structure, unless you are referring to the pyrotechnics of a Hollywood movie. It sounds like a relatively small fire charring the exterior of the home. Serious house fires need an enclosed space such as a wall without appropriate fire stops, or an attic space which tends to provide just enough draft via attic vents to feed a fire in relatively confined quarters. Exterior fires tend to char but not burn.

I have no problem with the fire crew responding with three times as many needed responders. As I mentioned, their salary is not dependent on how many are called to a particular event and it’s good the keep people and equipment working. But let’s not try to inflate the reality of this small fire. And let’s try to use some common sense when disposing of ashes, even the youngest cub scout knows that ashes are to be wetted regardless of their disposal location.

The fire personnel deserve an A for effort and response. The homeowner deserves an F. Is there any wonder why new construction permits do not allow wood burning fireplaces? The insurance companies got tired of paying out on the claims of idiotic homeowners. I’m sure the insurance adjustor will just love to hear of the drama.

RS January 10, 2017 at 2:46 pm

According to the homeowner the fire “exploded into the house” and yet according to the Fire Chief it was extinguished within 10 minutes.

Is someone exaggerating just a bit here?

Terry January 10, 2017 at 9:05 pm

Kudos to Menlo Fire for their rapid response. We sometimes take these services for granted, those trucks are parked nose out of the station for a reason.

Small tip for Vivian – visit Ace Hardware in Menlo Park and ask them to point you to that high tech gadget known as an ash can. They come in various sizes and most important they are made of … metal! Putting ashes in a box? Really? Do you use a hairdryer in the tub? Stick forks in the toaster? Common sense seems to be in short supply.

Make Atherton Great Again and buy an ash can. Your next door neighbors will thank you.

Comments are closed.


Please help support InMenlo! Your contribution will help us continue to bring InMenlo to you. Click on the button below to contribute!