Two off-duty firefighters helped keep a Wikiup neighbor's home from burning badly Monday morning in a fire ignited by fireplace ashes in a plastic garbage can, officials reported.

The fire spread from the container to patio furniture and had reached the outside of the Los Arboles Way home when fire engines arrived.

"They kept it from going inside the house," Windsor Fire Battalion Chief David Cornelssen said. The fire "was just breaking windows as the firetrucks arrived."

Damage from the fire was estimated at about $10,000.

Without the early effort, the fire likely would have caused far more damage, Cornelssen said.

Home renter Keith Herron had gone to work, and no one was home. Multiple people began calling at 8:39 a.m. to report the fire.

The first engine, from the Rincon Valley station in Larkfield, arrived at 8:45 a.m.

Windsor Fire Capt. Jason Piloni, an area neighbor, had just arrived home from work when his pager alerted him to the fire and he went to check it out, Cornelssen said.

Piloni arrived to find Jeremy Pierce, an acting Marin County fire battalion chief, using a garden hose on the growing blaze.

Pierce had been driving his child to school when he spotted the fire, phoned for help and went into the backyard to fight the blaze, Cornelssen said.

The homeowner, Paul Harper, lives out of the country, fire officials said.

The renter had cleaned out fireplace ashes on Sunday and put them into a metal can.

On Monday morning, he dumped them into the green garden-waste can, Cornelssen said.

Ashes can stay warm for several days, especially if they include coals or large embers.

Cyndi Foreman, a Central Fire prevention officer, said ashes need to be left in a metal container for numerous days and water should be added to the can before disposing of the ashes.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or