On March 28 at approximately 3:50 pm, a fire was reported on private land called the Kavanaugh Tract. Located on the edge of Menlo Park and across the street from homes in East Palo Alto, the fire spread through grass and bushes that were four to six feet high. Despite the wetness of the area, a firm bog, and green grass, the fire spread rapidly with flames reaching 20 feet high. The fire was one of several in the past month that broke out near homeless encampments. This one just happened to spread out of control.
The primary danger in situations like this is to the homeless people that are living nearby. If the fire had spread at night while the people were sleeping, it could have killed several people. The secondary danger, and luckily it did not happen in this case, is a danger to nearby homes. Embers were seen floating toward homes in the East Palo Alto area and firefighters were worried about the fire jumping across the 4 lanes of University Avenue which would have endangered some homes.
The Almanac reported a firefighter saying:
We got a pretty good grass fire. It’s reaching University with (its) four lanes. We’re hoping that is a (fire) break. … A lot of smoke. … Hard to identify anything at this point.
Fire Chief Schapelhouman said the originators of the fire were probably homeless people and the investigators were interviewing some of the homeless people who were seen running away.
Homeless Encampments in the Vicinity
Three homeless encampments were on the property at the time the fire started. Homeless people often build small fires to cook with and also to keep warm. Often the areas they choose to build there fires are not in clearings and embers can easily get blown to surrounding grass, bushes and trees, especially when the winds were blowing 20 to 25 miles per hour as they were when the fire became out of control.
Ironically, the Kavanaugh family used to keep the grass cut until they were forced to stop “due to environmental concerns.”
No injuries or deaths were reported.