Palo Alto firefighters on Wednesday knocked back a two-alarm house fire on the 3600 block of Bryant Street, though not before the flames completely engulfed the mid-century Eichler home, sending up a cloud of smoke that was visible for miles.
The resident of the brown, single-story house at the corner of Redwood Circle and Bryant, Wayne Martin, said he awoke to the smell of smoke and saw an extension cord to his bedroom on fire. He was able to escape immediately.
"It's an Eichler, so I have a door out of my bedroom," said Martin, who added that he is physically uninjured.
Firefighters were dispatched to the "fully engulfed fire" at 10:44 a.m., according to radio dispatches. By the time they got to the scene, the fire had spread to other rooms.
Firefighters initially fought flames on the exterior of the house, deeming it dangerous to enter the interior. Some electrical lines fell in the back of the home, said Deputy Chief Catherine Capriles.
By 11:30 a.m., the giant black cloud of smoke billowing up from the house was drastically reduced as firefighters hosed down the building. Firefighters then went inside the house to check for and remove flammable objects.
It didn't take long, however, for fire officials to determine that very little would be salvaged. Because famously airy Eichlers typically have wood paneling and lack sheetrock or other insulation material, they tend to flame up quickly, firefighters said. The large quantity of books and other materials inside the house contributed to the quick spread of the fire. When the time firefighters arrived at the scene just minutes after the fire was reported, they were welcomed by 20-foot-tall flames.
Fire officials briefly evacuated surrounding houses, and a few neighbors milled about on the street watching as fire, police, utilities and other officials addressed the incident. Utility officials also shut off gas service for about 30 customers in the area.
Police closed Bryant and Redwood Circle in the neighborhood while firefighters battled the blaze, which they were able to fully suppress by about 11:45 a.m.
Standing with friends outside of the home he's lived in since 1978, Martin surveyed his situation.
"Life is over. Everything I own is up in flames. A lifetime of work and over 1,000 books, which probably contributed to this," Martin, who is retired, said somberly.
As firefighters sprayed foam onto the burnt structure to help the wood absorb water, Martin said he didn't know where he would go.
The American Red Cross was expected to arrive to help Martin, Capriles said at around noon. Fire crews were expected remain on scene for a few hours to ensure that all embers have been put out, potentially flammable material is removed and the area is safe, she said.