Breaking News: Fire Demolishes Construction Site on Middlefield Road, Raining Ash and Smoke at M-A

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On Monday, June 3, a fire erupted around 10:15 a.m. at 2700 Middlefield Road, a low-income housing construction site in Redwood City.

In a press conference yesterday afternoon, Menlo Park Fire Department Chief Mark Lorenzen said, “Right now, the fire stands at eight alarms, which means 26 engines and seven ladders.” This classification means maximum assistance and manpower were required to combat this fire, with multiple jurisdictions, including fire departments from Cupertino, Redwood City, Menlo Park, San Mateo, and Woodside, all reporting to the scene.

The fire reportedly started on the fifth floor and spread rapidly throughout the building, which, due to being in construction, had no fire protection equipment and was composed primarily of wood, a highly flammable material. The fire department struggled to contain the fire due to the high winds and floating embers that sparked around a dozen fires in the surrounding area.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated. However, many residents have heard rumors of an improperly disposed cigarette sparking the flames, with one nearby resident saying, “We heard someone was smoking, and that started the fire.”

Ash and embers flooded the air and covered people’s rooftops, resulting in the evacuation of over 200 residents living between Pacific Ave and Calvin Ave, as well as some residents on Dumbarton Ave, for both precautionary measures and to protect against the smaller fires sparking from the embers around nearby neighborhoods.

Alexander Rubio, a nearby resident, said, “The police told us not to return to our houses until later because of the debris and ash that fell on lots of houses and streets.”

Some residents went up to their roofs in an attempt to hose the ash off, while others donned masks and kept inside, away from the thick smoke polluting the air.

The Cupertino, San Mateo, Redwood City, Menlo Park, and Woodside fire departments managed to contain the fire by around 3:00 p.m., and most residents were allowed back into their homes around the same time, according to the Palo Alto Daily

The Caltrain, which had been paused due to its proximity to the fire, resumed its service around the same time but faced a precautionary speed limit of 50 mph through Redwood City.

The building under construction was intended for low-income housing and was part of a $155 million project that was supposed to create 179 units for low-income families and people experiencing homelessness. However, the fire has devastated the site, with Lorenzon calling the building “a total loss” and expectations of a collapse looming.

The smoke, ash, and other substances created from the fire swept down Middlefield, with Palo Alto and several other Bay Area communities issuing air advisory reports warning of polluted, low-quality air and advising individuals to wear masks or stay indoors. 

Midday on Monday, the first day of finals week, smoke and ash from the fire appeared on M-A’s campus, prompting a loudspeaker announcement instructing teachers to close their doors. 

Sophomore Madeline McHugo said, “I was walking to class and I saw these huge chunks of ash falling from the sky, which was insane.”

These clumps of ash and other debris, some as large as footballs, began plummeting from the sky around noon. Numerous after-school activities were canceled or relocated due to the poor air quality.

Becca is a sophomore at M-A in her first year of journalism. She enjoys writing about events impacting the M-A community and hopes to write more pop-culture based articles and opinion pieces. In her free time, she enjoys baking and spending time with friends.

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