A three-alarm fire destroyed a home on the 900 block of Colonial Lane in Palo Alto Monday morning, fully engulfing the two-story wooden structure and sending plumes of thick smoke 100 feet in the sky.
Firefighters from Palo Alto, Mountain View and Santa Clara County worked to quell the stubborn blaze, which started as a kitchen fire and spread rapidly through the vent.
The residents called 911 at 8:55 a.m., and initially said the blaze was out. But arriving firefighters found the fire was still active. The blaze spread quickly, and it came out all four sides of the home, Geoffrey Blackshire, Palo Alto fire deputy chief said.
"Because it spread so fast, the safest thing to do was to fight the fire from the exterior," he said.
Firefighting efforts were hampered by a tar and gravel roof, a hot blaze and dangerous conditions that nearly caused firefighters to plunge through the roof.
"It sank down 6 inches. I thought, 'My God, we're going to die,'" one firefighter reported to personnel on scene.
At least one nearby house was evacuated. Everyone inside the home got out OK, Fire Chief Eric Nickel said.
Paul Jackson, who lives in the home, said he, his wife and his mother fled shortly after the fire began. Though the family has relatives in the area, they will probably seek shelter through the American Red Cross, he said.
As of 10 a.m., firefighters assessed the ongoing situation and planned to extinguish the remaining fire from the outside of the home rather than from the roof or inside the home, according to the dispatch radio and confirmed on scene.
Fire officials were concerned the structure could have collapsed, Battalion Chief Chris Woodard said. Part of the roof was sagging because of the fire, he said.
In all, 32 firefighters, five battalion chiefs and five chief officers responded to the blaze, which brought seven engines and two trucks on scene.
The fire is believed to have started because of grease in an unwatched pan on the stove, he said.
The home is uninhabitable, but he did not have a dollar estimate of the damages, he said.
As firefighters continued to put out the flames, Jackson looked toward the gutted house that his grandparents built in 1972.
"My grandmother moved here in 1954. She owned a another house first at 983 Amarillo, and she had an empty lot here," he said, pointing to a newer home near the corner of Greer Road and Colonial.
"She owned all of the land from (Colonial) to Oregon Expressway. After she sold the property, she built this house and moved in. ... You see how the street is crooked here? This is where the fence used to be," he said.
Neighbors said the family sold the majority of the land to build part of the subdivision.
"The Jacksons are a long-established family in Palo Alto," Ken Edwards, a neighbor and retired Menlo Park firefighter said.
The family owned a catering business from 1976 to 1986 on the corner or Loma Verde Avenue and Middlefield Road, Jackson said.
"Best sandwiches in town," a bystander chimed in.
Jackson's father, Paul Jackson Sr., who has since died, built an addition onto the home by hand, Edwards recalled.
Longtime resident Trudy Myrrh Reagan said her children went to elementary school with the Jackson kids.
"This is a tragedy for our whole neighborhood. It's such a nice family, so friendly and outgoing. I really hope they don't have to move away. They're a neighborhood fixture," she said.