Elderly couple escapes two-alarm blaze

As Wednesday’s storm brewed, Frank Bergren fetched himself a cup of coffee to warm up on the chilly morning. But the 79-year-old San Mateo resident didn’t bargain for just how hot things would get.

When Bergren returned to his retreat — a small cottage behind his home where he liked to smoke, listen to the radio and relax in his easy chair — flames were licking the walls and smoke was pouring from the windows.

“It was up to the ceiling. It’s like I threw gasoline on it — which I didn’t,” said Bergren as he surveyed his charred lounger and the ruins of his cottage.

Bergren and his wife escaped the two-alarm blaze, which gutted the small building but left their home mostly unscathed. San Mateo Fire Department Marshal Michael Leong said the fire cracked a window in the house, which was briefly threatened.

Firefighters were dispatched to 1965 Palm Ave. at 9:45 a.m. and had the flames under control by 10 a.m. The fire was completely extinguished five minutes later, Leong said.

Leong estimated the fire caused $25,000 in damage. Investigators have determined the fire was accidental, but have not found the cause, he said.

Bergren said he believes a heater is the culprit. His 30-year-old heating unit worked just fine, Bergren said. Recently, however, he bought a space heater that a newspaper ad claimed was recommended by a doctor. That heater was not plugged in at the time the blaze broke out, but Bergren said he smelled burnt plastic and suspects the warmth of his old heater set the new one ablaze.

There were no injuries from the fire.

tbarak@examiner.com

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