Los Altos couple save neighbors’ home from fire

Jim and Margaret Burns
Courtesy of Margaret Burns
Jim and Margaret Burns, a Los Altos couple who saved their neighbors’ home Friday morning.

Jim and Margaret Burns have a habit of stopping to greet Nala, their neighbors’ dog, whenever they stroll by her fenced-in Orange Avenue front yard. The 7-month-old Australian shepherd was relishing the attention Friday morning (Oct. 9) when Jim happened to look up and noticed flames inside Nala’s home.

“I could see within the window – the flames were just going all the way to the ceiling,” Jim said.

Firefighters are now crediting the Los Altos couple, both 73, with saving the home, located in the 600 block of Orange Avenue.

“If it had not been for Meg and Jim Burns happening by and seeing the fire, it definitely would have turned into a structure fire,” said Justin Stockman, Santa Clara County Fire Department captain.

While Margaret called 911, Jim rushed into the house. Within the kitchen, he found an engulfed wine delivery box atop the electric range. The plastic face of the microwave above it had melted, he said, and smoke filled the house to about 4 feet off the floor. Jim threw the box on the floor, ran outside to catch a breath of fresh air and then ran back in to douse the box fire with a quart-size water bottle. He dragged the box to the front walkway and returned to the kitchen yet again, extinguishing the fire emanating from the microwave oven with more water.

Santa Clara County Fire Department personnel arrived on scene at 10:58 a.m., approximately three minutes after Margaret placed her 911 call, but the fire was already extinguished, Stockman said. He added that the Burnses prevented both injury and extensive damage that could have totaled in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. He plans to recommend formal recognition of their efforts from Fire Chief Tony Bowden.

“While we’re always careful not to encourage people to fight fires themselves, it’s safe to say Jim did something pretty substantial and pretty special,” Stockman said.

The residents of the home could not immediately be reached Friday afternoon, and the owner of the home declined to comment, but the Burnses said the residents were out jogging at the time of the fire, and it seems like someone may have accidentally turned the range on when propping the wine box on top of it.

“I’m so proud of my husband,” Margaret said. “You know, he’s a hero. If he hadn’t gone in there, I know the whole house would have been engulfed very quickly. And no other neighbors seemed to realize it at all. We were there ourselves for a good 10 minutes before any other bystanders came.”

Saturday (Oct. 10) marks the last day of national Fire Prevention Week. Coincidentally, “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen!” is this year’s campaign theme.

Cooking is the No. 1 cause of home fires and home fire injuries, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Learn more by visiting

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