MENLO PARK (CBS SF) — The Menlo Park Fire Department determined that the Beechwood School’s modular building that caught fire early Thursday morning was not equipped with a monitored fire alarm system or sprinkler system, which are required in permanent structures.
“This is the second modular school building fire in the last year we have had here in Menlo Park” stated Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman.
The building was intended as a temporary structure, and is not required to have early alarm systems and sprinklers, which could have prevented the fire from becoming as large as it did. The school has used the modular buildings since 1986, and is looking into building a permanent structure, Schapelhouman said.
Firefighters responded to Beechwood School at 50 Terminal Ave. after a caller reported seeing smoke and fire coming from one of the school’s portable classrooms at about 3:50 a.m., according to Schapelhouman.
Arriving units were delayed in reaching the fire because the caller mistakenly gave them the wrong address, and they arrived about a quarter-mile away, causing a three to four minute delayed arrival, Schapelhouman said.
Schapelhouman said additional time was needed to gain access to the gated campus and locked building that also had window bars on them.
The first firefighters arrived at 3:55 a.m., and found flames and smoke coming from one of the modular school buildings, a configuration of several triple-wide trailers arranged as a single building that housed the school’s administrative offices and several classrooms.
Firefighters entered the modular building, filled with thick, black smoke and searched for flames. Firefighters were cutting a hole in the roof for ventilation when the roof began feeling spongy.
The battalion chief noticed the lightweight walls of the classroom had started to buckle and ordered everyone out of the building and off of the roof. Minutes later, the roof collapsed.
No one was injured in the fire, Schapelhouman said.
They continued fighting the fire from outside, but at 10 a.m.,
after six hours of dumping thousands of gallons of water onto the collapsed structure, it was clear that the tactic was ineffective, Schapelhouman said.
An excavator and a large forklift were used to start tearing apart the burning building, pulling the contents out of the side.
Firefighters discovered that because the roof had collapsed, certain pockets had not burned in the building, leaving some items intact like filing cabinets and computers. Some of that could be salvaged, but many administrative records were likely lost, Schapelhouman said.
By noon the temporary structure was almost completely dismantled and the fire had been extinguished.
The structural damage to the fire amounted to an estimated $300,000, and the contents lost could be worth as much as $100,000. The school was insured but will be accepting donations to replace items not covered by insurance.
The fire started due to an electric stove in the teachers’ break room and a pinched electrical cord that failed.
Firefighters assisted school staff with salvage operations until 6 p.m., Schapelhouman said.
The other school buildings were not damaged in the fire, but power was cut to the entire school and classes will be canceled until at least next week.
The destroyed building is expected to be razed and removed from campus by Monday, when classes are likely to resume.
A total of 15 firefighters and three investigators responded to the blaze, and received assistance from the Redwood City Fire Department.
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