Nature’s call alerts resident to deadly San Mateo fire

An early morning fire Thursday that consumed two houses, displaced 16 people and killed two puppies in San Mateo was dangerously close to taking human lives, residents say, if it weren’t for the full bladder of a neighbor.

Ray Tulloh, who lives adjacent to the Lodi Avenue houses that caught fire, said he had woken up to go to the bathroom early Thursday morning and flipped on the TV to help him snuggle back to slumber, when the power suddenly went out.

He said he almost went back to sleep, but on a whim decided to check the fuse box.

It was then, he said, that he saw smoke billowing out of the garage at 1533 Lodi Ave.

Tulloh recalls racing to the front of the house and rattling the locked front door. He said he then started banging on the door and shouting for residents inside to wake up while trying to grab a water hose.

Just as he was about to break down the front door, three people from the house ran out barefoot, followed by swells of smoke and flame.

“Ray is our hero,” 24-year-old Moreen Singh said Thursday, standing across the street from her blackened home.

She said she could hardly remember how to dial 911, she was so stunned and shaken. As emergency crews responded, the neighbor’s house at 1541 Lodi Ave. also caught fire in the two-alarm blaze. The neighbors from that residence evacuated their house unharmed.

The only ones who didn’t escape were the puppies, which were in the garage, where the fire is believed to have started.

“We ran out and we heard our puppies whining. We turned around to get them but there was just smoke and flames and windows breaking and things exploding. We couldn’t go back in. We just stood there helplessly watching it all burn,” Singh said.

The San Mateo Fire Department said the blaze may have originated with an electrical problem in the garage. The fire, which caused an estimated $400,000 of total damage for both houses, was under control by about 4:20 a.m., fire officials said.

kworth@examiner.com

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