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Arson suspected in Sunday's downtown fire

Original post made on Jul 1, 2007

By early Monday morning, firefighters were still at the scene of a four-alarm blaze in downtown Palo Alto, and fire and police units expected it to be an all-nighter.

Read the updated fire story here: Web Link

Read the story on the arson suspicions here:
Web Link

Comments (36)

Posted by another mother here
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2007 at 11:04 pm

"HOT TIME IN THE DOWNTOWN TONIGHT".. (Our town usually rolls up by 9.) Seriously,
I am going to miss that old Icon of a building. Hope the firefighters will come out ok on this with no mishaps. They sure are having their fill of fires lately unfortunately.
Wasn't the Mercury News deserted and empty? I heard they moved their operations back to San Jose and were having lay offs........? Any one know?

Posted by ZSAZSA
a resident of Addison School
on Jul 1, 2007 at 11:31 pm

It must be fireworks related, around that time I was throwing out some trash and heard fireworks. As long as no one gets hurt, building can be rebuilt.

Posted by QQ
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2007 at 11:35 pm

Web Link

" The Mercury News leased space for its news bureau in the downtown building for years but closed it earlier this year as a cost-cutting measure. The building was being renovated for new occupants."

Posted by Kevin
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 1, 2007 at 11:55 pm

Me and a friend were in that Subway getting dinner when someone ran in and yelled that there was a fire in the building and that we needed to get out. A little scary.

Posted by Chuck
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 2, 2007 at 12:15 am

Yeah! We were finishing up our orders when someone kindly popped in and told us. Surreal.

We stood just outside on the sidewalk and watched for a few moments as smoke began seeping from the cracks between stories. After crossing the street for a better view, the flames were definitely large and in charge. There was some snap-crackle-popping and blue flames at one point.

Now I can tell my grandchildren about the time way-back-when that we braved burning Subways for our daily bread.

I and my trusty coworking sidekick sprung into action! We chewed, we rubber-necked, one after the other. Twice, thrice, four eyes! Forward, backward, sideways! No ordinary software engineers were at work here. Nay! But legends.

Posted by Another Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2007 at 12:59 am

Here is another chance to build high density housing in what was a retail space. The housing developers can move in quickly and get the placed rezoned. Downtown does need more housing for the thousands of jobs there. It can cut down on traffic to the city.

Posted by My poor car :(
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2007 at 1:52 am

That's my silver honda there in photo 7. I had to hitch it home to Cupertino. Anyone know when we'll be able to get back into the scene to get our cars back? Any locals know if the streets are cleared yet? I'm sure the second they do, those meter maids will be ticketing away.

Posted by another mother here
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 2, 2007 at 2:14 am

AH, the thought of cramming working people into a small apt downtown is heartless. I think of the smaller than small places that Alma Place has on Alma Street and it turns my stomach. Yes, it's a roof overhead, but bad for anyone claustrophobic..and who wants to share a bath/kitchen? Yuuch. Least the land mongers convince the City to build, I hope the City has the forethought of making them decent sized. AND AFFORDABLE...(yeah, Palo Alto???).........
The fire is almost out. I went down to witness a bitter piece of history unfolding. The firemen from Los Altos, Stanford, Mt. View, Sunnyvale and Menlo Park were all in force. Lots of very high ladders with lights on their tops were shinning onto the sides and the roof of Walgreens. Water was flowing up to the sides of the curbs ~down University Ave.~ East towards Longs~ and swishing around the corner towards Hamilton Ave. WOW. A lot of water...maybe we should try to conserve tomorrow and not take such a long shower. We all need to band together and save our resources, even if it is just a little. A little here, a little there. It all adds up. Hopefully we will not have a rationing the likes also of the rolling black outs of yesteryears..............

Posted by another mother here
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 2, 2007 at 2:20 am

Also, I wanted to comment on the great service that was provided to the firemen.....There was a truck with coffee, water, other items that were available for them. I do not know what agency set up and supplied this for them right behind the fire line ...Anyone know? Were they from the fire dept. or an emergency crew set up special that attends fires??? Thanks...

Posted by Too Much Housing
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2007 at 2:30 am

Another Observer:

The LAST thing downtown needs is more housing. If they build housing there, there will be an INCREASE of traffic into the city. You have to be kidding me.

Posted by Mark
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 2, 2007 at 2:33 am

I'm guessing that the buildings did not have fire sprinklers installed. Having a working fire sprinkler system would have saved the building owners a bunch of money after this inferno by reducing the fire damage significantly and would have reduced the risk to our responding Fire Department personnel.

Posted by Student
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2007 at 2:40 am

Isn't that why there's something called a "fire code?" Also, all the downtown buildings (or most) are earthquake proof. Wouldn't it be smart to add sprinklers into that? I agree with Too Much Housing, I hope Palo Alto doesn't allow ANY housing on University Ave. There's too much traffic as-is.

Posted by Focused
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 2, 2007 at 7:25 am

Rezoning to residential? A commercial building with no sprinkler system? Both of these are far-fetched. I think a lot of people out there are seeking more information about this fire. Focusing our comments to eyewitness accounts or problems (like getting cars/belongings) would be a better us of the forum for the moment.

Posted by Archie
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 2, 2007 at 8:44 am

I swear that I saw the likeness of the virgin Mary in the flames last night.

Posted by Danny
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 2, 2007 at 9:01 am

Did anyone see the headline on today's Palo Alto Daily News?? It read: "Fire ravages downtown." Could the Daily be more sensationalisitic? Any stranger to the area would pick up a copy of the paper and then believe that downtown Palo Alto is little more than charred ash. Why isn't the Daily on supermarket ailes with the other doomsayer rags?

Posted by eyewitness
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2007 at 9:02 am

Since Palo Alto can't keep up with its own news (note anemic story above) get more info and a video at Web Link

Posted by Linda
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2007 at 9:10 am

I walked down this morning about 7 a.m. There were 5 TV news trucks, three fire trucks, and traffic diversions around the University/Bryant intersection. I'm thinking about the folks who have lost their jobs because of the fire, especially Jim at Walgreens. I hope their companies take care of them.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2007 at 9:12 am

Why the diss of our local media, which first sent out a bulletin on the fire within minutes of the first arrival of fire engines and covered it throughout the night on Palo Alto Online? If this is KGO's way of making friends in our town, perhaps we'll watch other TV stations. Your story, posted this morning, adds no new information!

Posted by Updates needed
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2007 at 9:34 am

The story above hasn't been updated since last night, ten hours ago! It doesn't even say whether or not the fire is out! Is it?

Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Jul 2, 2007 at 9:42 am

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

The story was updated around 1:30 a.m. this morning. The fire is now extinguished, although there are still plenty of fire personnel on the scene and they are watching for "hot spots." Our reporter is writing an update now, which we will post shortly.

Posted by Ellen
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2007 at 9:56 am

I'm with Danny on this one.
I found out about the fire from this website last night. They were 1st to report it. SFGate had the story last night - but now it's gone from their website. The Merc took awhile til their site had it. I figure there are less media staffers available during a holiday break - and that not all stories get the attention we may think they deserve.
So, the fire is out. I would avoid Univ & Bryant for the next few days while they mop up.
As a side note: the Merc is laying off 17% of their employees this morning.

Posted by Larry
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2007 at 10:06 am

I left a dollar on the front counter last night before I left the store walgreens. Any chance I'm going to get it back?

Posted by anon.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 2, 2007 at 10:44 am

Eyewitness, thanks for the clip.
Don't worry, you don't really have to go away.
Danny, it's okay. Fire happens. Many western
towns have burned to the ground several times.
Try not to panic, and running all over the place.
Palo Alto should be able to get over it.

Posted by Ugh
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 2, 2007 at 1:01 pm


I really hope that they can get compensated, or at least the Wall and Subway can find jobs for them. If they don't, there should be some hell raised.

Posted by Concerned
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 2, 2007 at 1:10 pm

I'm only aware of a few fires in PA in the past 10 years, but when they happen they seem to be major. It appears the fire department finds it necessary to fight a lot of them from outside the building due to concerns about the structure. Fighting a fire from outside means that it's going to be harder to control. That building looks like it's been recently remodeled. During one of those remodels.... why didn't the city insist that the building be brought up to code to allow for fighting this fire from within the building? Doesn't the fire department do their own inspections and look for these kinds of things?

Posted by Ellen
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2007 at 2:19 pm

About a commercial remodel... not sure about the structural issues, but I would assume city code does not require retrofitting with sprinklers if a building is of a certain age. This building is est. 1912.
Someone will correct me I'm sure, but I believe SF does not require older buildings to install sprinkler systems. Does retrofitting an older building to include sprinklers really add that much cost to the project? A contractor out there must know...

Posted by Ugh
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 2, 2007 at 3:00 pm

Surely installing a sprinkler system costs less than having to rebuild a building due to lack of one.

Posted by Concerned
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 2, 2007 at 3:29 pm

I agree... retrofitting for a sprinkler system would seem to save a lot of money, water, and maybe even lives. (The water sprayed on this fire was huge!) If they require it on new residential buildings of certain size... why wouldn't they require it for older commercial buildings. If they aren't, I sure that is up for review.

Posted by i kno
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2007 at 3:30 pm

all these fires at junkyards , now downtown. toxic smoke, there should be alarms alerts for toxins. i didnt hear any firetrucks , and i was close by. bad planning, too much self centeredness in society...

Posted by Curious
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 2, 2007 at 5:37 pm

When I look at one of the first pictures posted on this website, I see that they are fighting the fire with full power to the signs and building still on. Isn't that strange?

Posted by Phil
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 2, 2007 at 6:17 pm

It took them a while to get Utilities over there to shut off the power. From what I could hear, they took care of the gas first, then electricity.

Posted by Ralph Wiggum
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2007 at 12:20 pm

Mark my words, that building is going to be torn down. It looks like it'll be a while before that part of University Ave. recovers.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 3, 2007 at 1:09 pm

No need to mark your words as the newspapers were already reporting yesterday that the building would be torn down.

Posted by Ralph Wiggum
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2007 at 3:43 pm

In that case Joe, mark the newspaper's words -- that building will be torn down. :-)

Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 3, 2007 at 3:47 pm

I remember shopping with my Grandmother and mother at 310 University Ave. in the late 1940's when it was a J.C. Penney store. One feature that stuck out in my mind is when the salesperson wrote up a tag for your merchandise and sent your money inside a round tube (about eight inches long) which then went into a larger tube that was wisked away up to the second floor. It eventually came back (as you waited patiently) with your change inside. First time I remembered seeing money fly..haha....

Got to laugh now, the corner WILL be rebuilt. RIP.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2007 at 10:27 am

Just been downtown for breakfast and the area seems to be as busy there as other downtown areas, more so in fact as many people are walking there to see the damage. Missed Walgreens though as I would have gone in there for a couple of things on my way back to the car.

Today, 4th July, there is a great atmosphere in downtown and the fact that you can walk on some of the streets and not worry about traffic is actually a great improvement.

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