'Worst disaster:' Redwood City developer bemoans 8-alarm fire

The CEO of the development company that was building a 179-unit, $155-million affordable housing development near Redwood City said he was struggling after an 8-alarm fire ripped through his multi-story building. 

Roberts-Obayashi Corp. "experienced the worst disaster" in the company's 92-year history, Scott Smith said Tuesday in an email to KTVU.

"I am working to absorb the events from yesterday and searching for answers," he said. 

It's unclear just how the Monday morning fire broke out at the development, known as Middlefield Junction, at 2700 Middlefield Road. The project was being built for Mercy Housing and it consisted of two buildings. Tuesday afternoon, work crews cut down metal scaffolding at the fire site that officials said is a collapse hazard.

"Having the scaffolding removed or pushed down so we don’t have a threat to the neighborhood," said Jon Johnston, a fire marshal for the Menlo Park Fire Protection Dist. 

What has been made public is that the blaze started with some type of ignition of the insulation on the 5th floor, firefighters said Monday. Smoke and flames raced through the under-construction building, destroying 104 units of "Building B," Smith said. He confirmed firefighters' reports which said that workers tried to put out the fire themselves with fire extinguishers before crews arrived, but it grew too quickly. Within three hours, the building was gone. 

There were 130 workers on site when the 10:15 a.m. fire broke out and there was no "hot work" being done at the time, Smith said, reiterating that the cause of the fire remains under investigation. 

No injuries were reported, and no buildings nearby were damaged, firefighters said. 

San Mateo County Supervisor President Warren Slocum said he has been working on this project for 10 years. It was supposed to be completed next year and provide childcare along with community space and some three-bedroom units.

"This included one, two, and three bedroom units. Three-bedroom units is rare in the affordable housing space," said Slocum.

The fire puts the building back at square No. 1.

"It's sickening," Slocum said on Monday, with obvious disappointment in his voice. "It's a tragedy to see this go up in flames. I'm just heartbroken about this." 

For his part, Smith said that Mercy Housing of California and Roberts – Obayashi "remain fully committed" to completing this development, which has been under construction for over a year, and is the result of almost a decade of community planning.

"We hope residents and partners will trust in our resolve to deliver the affordable homes and childcare spaces that the San Mateo County communities deserve and need," Rosalyn Sternberg, a regional communications manager for Mercy Housing of Calif.

He said as soon as it is safe, crews will return to work at the Middlefield Junction site to assess the damage. But plan to move forward with reconstruction will be slowed by the investigation into a cause, and then completion of paperwork with the projects insurer.

"I don’t think there will be problems. It depends on the insurance payout. And we’re prepared to seek other funding if necessary," said Slocum. "But we’re definitely committed to rebuilding this. Whatever it takes we’ll do."

A building in Redwood City was on fire. Photo: Citizen App June 3, 2024

Massive fire at 2700 block of Middlefield Road in Redwood City. Citizen App. June 2, 2024 

Fire crews on Monday were sent to fight a massive, eight-alarm fire in Redwood City that ripped through an affordable housing development under construction. June 3, 2024

KTVU's Greg Lee contributed to this report.