San Diego

Neighbors Rescue Elderly Man Threatened by Garage Fire

A raging fire engulfed a detached garage in El Cajon, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the surrounding neighborhood and spreading to cars parked nearby.

The building — which looked large enough to be a home — in the 2300 block of Charles Way caught fire at 4:45 p.m.

Soon, the flames grew and began to threaten the main house, where 83-year-old Earvin Brundege was home alone.

Neighbors soon became concerned for his safety.

"We're trying to call him to the door. 'Open the door, open the door!'" recalled Mike Dorendorf. "He's just looking at us, deer in the headlights."

Brundege's family told NBC 7 he suffers from dementia and Parkinson's disease.

When they saw he was not making a move to get out, Dorendorf and a friend used a rock to smash the front window. His friend climbed into the house and let Dorendorf in through the front door.

"We both went in and were trying to talk him out and he didn't want to go," he said. "So we picked him up and carried him out and got him across the street." 

As the fire department declared it a second-alarm incident, at least five fire engines, a brush unit and many firefighters rushed to the scene to fight the flames.

Meanwhile, Brundege's family arrived, thanking the man's rescuers.

But his son-in-law, Don Steward, was anguishing over a mistake he had made.

"I'm upset because I know how it started and it's negligence on my part," he said.

Steward explained that he had been working in his embroidery and screening workshop in the garage.

While there, he said he bumped a piece of machinery which stayed on under a piece of wood. It threw off flames that were high enough to catch the garage on fire.

Firefighters were able to get a handle on the fire by about 5:30 p.m.

Contact Us