Fire erupts in multi-story housing project under construction on Middlefield Road

Fire gutted this housing development that was under construction at 2700 Middlefield Road in North Fair Oaks. Post photo by Braden Cartwright.

An affordable apartment complex that was under construction in the North Fair Oaks community was destroyed in an eight-alarm fire today (June 3) that prompted hundreds to evacuate while firefighters protected a neighborhood from floating embers.

The fire started around 10:15 a.m. on the top floor of a five-story building under construction at 2700 Middlefield Road. It burned yellow insulation and sent chunks of ash flying into a neighborhood; starting smaller fires on the roofs of buildings and patches of dead grass.

Firefighters hosed down roofs closest to the fire, while residents of the neighborhood pulled out ladders and hosed down their own properties further away. Some ash floated for five blocks, and the pieces were bigger than footballs. 

As the flames cut through the building, people moved back or loaded their kids into the car and left the area.

Firefighters were challenged by the wind and getting ladder trucks access to the fire, Menlo Park Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said this afternoon at the Fair Oaks Health Center.

The building also had no fire protection systems installed, such as sprinklers or firewalls, leaving wooden 2x4s and 2x6s to burn, Lorenzen said.

About 100 construction workers had already left the building when firefighters arrived. Lorenzen said he is hoping they can provide helpful information to fire investigators about what started the blaze.

The fire was an eight-alarm fire. That means there were 26 engines, seven ladder trucks and about 110 firefighters from various San Mateo County agencies, Lorenzen said.

Another 10 engines and 30 to 40 firefighters came from Santa Clara County, Lorenzen said.

Lorenzen said this is the largest fire he’s seen since he joined the Menlo Park Fire Protection District two and a half years ago. Some have been comparing it to a fire at Santana Row in San Jose in August 2002 that destroyed shops and apartments, Lorenzen said.

“That’s kind of on the same scope and size of this,” Lorenzen said.

By 1:15 p.m., the fire was less significant, Lorenzen said. Crews will go into the building and check out spot fires, and residents should be allowed to return to their homes in the next few hours, he said.

“It was likely a total loss. Our primary goal right now is that we protect the adjacent structures and the community to the south,” Lorenzen said.

By 3 p.m., the fire was contained just to the building.

By 5 p.m., most of those evacuated were able to return home, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Smoke from the fire is expected to waft down the Peninsula into San Jose, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which has issued a Spare the Air alert.

Small fires kept popping up in empty lots and burning patches of dead grass. One piece of ash started smoking on top of a three-story apartment building at the corner of Calvin Avenue and Dumbarton Avenue, and people shouted for firefighters to bring a hose over. 

Police officers went door to door telling people along Dumbarton Avenue to evacuate to Middlefield Road.

Because the railroad tracks are nearby, Caltrain service was halted. The Fair Oaks Community Center at 2600 Middlefield Road closed due to the fire. School at nearby Garfield Community School was canceled.

The building, which was going to be called Middlefield Junction, is in unincorporated San Mateo County near Costco and the Redwood City limits in the community known as North Fair Oaks.

Construction began on the $155 million, 179-unit complex last year. It was being built on a San Mateo County government-owned parcel behind the county’s Fair Oaks Health Center.

The project would have consisted of apartments from one to three bedrooms and a child care center. The apartments were meant for low-income and homeless renters.

“Once complete, the Middlefield Junction project will transform a lot that was once home to a recycling facility and help to fulfill a plan years in the making,” a June 21, 2023 press release from the county said.


  1. Thank you for covering this – I have been trying to find out why there are smoke and ashes in our neighborhood. You’re the only source I could find. I appreciate you!

  2. Arson. Several Oakland projects that were Type III construction were had “victimless” arson the moment the building topped out. Since no one was “hurt”, police never found the perpetrators. Eerily similar.

  3. I found chunks of burned stuff in my yard and I’m on 9th Ave. in Menlo Park = 1 mile away from there. Scary!

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