SAN MATEO -- Uatesoni and Anna Paasi spent the morning of Black Friday at Kmart buying a new oven. They needed it for a special occasion: a party following the ceremonial blessings of two infant grandchildren.

On Sunday, Dec. 1, the Mormon couple hosted more than 50 friends and relatives in their backyard, serving roast leg of pork and other Tongan specialties. They had held dozens of family gatherings since buying their York Avenue house in 2006. This may have been the last.

Three days later, Anna Paasi stood in the street in shock, watching flames consume their home in San Mateo's North Shoreview neighborhood. Despite the heat from the fire, she was shivering.

"It was not too cold," recalled Anna Paasi, 53, "but I was shaking."

No one was hurt in the fire, which began around 10 p.m. and burned into the early morning, but the Paasis lost most of their possessions, including a pickup truck that was parked in the driveway. The fire marshal has not determined the cause, but the Paasis say firefighters told them it may have been electrical wiring in the garage.

Their home is insured through their bank, they say, and they hope to rebuild. But they did not have insurance for their belongings. A friend of the family has begun an online fundraising drive to help them put their lives back together.

Blackened shell

On Thursday, Uatesoni and Anna Paasi drove to their charred two-bedroom house from a San Mateo homeless shelter where they are staying along with five family members, including two sons and a grandson, who lived with them.

The broken windows of the one-story building are boarded up. There is a pile of trash on the lawn. Inside the blackened, gutted house the carpet is still spongy from the water that put out the flames. The Paasis' prized oven is rust-colored, oxidized by the fire and heaped with insulation that fell down from the attic.

Anna Paasi picked through the ruins of her bedroom, looking for salvageable clothes. She and her husband were wearing outfits they bought with a $1,000 debit card from the Red Cross.

She brightened when she found a small pile of family photographs, inspecting them with soot-covered hands. Most of the Paasis' photos were destroyed in the fire, though three family portraits survived through a bit of good luck.

Christy Graham, whose daughter is the girlfriend of one of the Paasis' five sons, was over at the house on Thanksgiving. An incurable shutterbug, she happened to take close-up photographs of three portraits on the mantle and wall. After the fire those replicas became precious.

"When I gave them to Anna, she was in tears," said Graham, who organized the fundraiser at YouCaring.

Temporary housing

Returning to the shelter Thursday, Uatesoni Paasi got dressed for work, while the youngest of the Paasis' five sons, 14-year-old Lavemai, played basketball outside. Anna Paasi and her 55-year-old husband both work for a shuttle service at San Francisco International Airport.

The InnVision Shelter Network transitional home has provided the family with adjoining bedrooms, each with two bunk beds. They will stay there one more month before finding a place to rent.

Anna Paasi appraised the room with a smile as she prepared to clean up for an afternoon check by shelter staff.

"I remember getting a bunk bed when my kids were little," she said, looking at the lower bunk she shares with her husband. "Now we end up sleeping in one."

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.

How to help
To support the Paasi family, visit www.youcaring.com and search for "Paasi" to find their fundraising page.