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2 dead in Mendocino County house fire, cause under investigation

POTTER VALLEY — The family lived across the street from the Potter Valley Fire Department. But that didn't stop flames from engulfing their double-wide trailer and burning it to the ground Saturday morning, killing two people.

Family members identified the victims as Earl McDaniels, a grandfather in his 80s, and his son Wes McDaniels, a developmentally disabled man in his 50s.

"He woke up with a smile on his face every day," said Wes McDaniels' sister, Dawn Tracy, when she returned to the destruction at her home Saturday evening. "He was just a good boy. He didn't deserve to die."

The fire started around 7:30a.m. Saturday morning at the home on Main Street of the rural Mendocino County town, located about 19 miles northeast of Ukiah.

Pete Nelson, a mechanic with Walsh Vineyard Management, was out with a crew picking grapes when they saw the thick plume of smoke and rushed to the scene.

What they found was chaos. Three barefoot children had found their way out of the house, but couldn't get out of the smoky, fenced-in yard because the gates were locked.

"The kids were outside, and the parents were trying to get the two people out of the trailer," Nelson said. "They were going to try to save their father, but it was too late. That place was engulfed."

Nelson's buddy helped lift a toddler over the fence, and they cut the lock with bolt cutters. Then the vineyard crew brought the three children across the street to the fire department until the volunteer crew showed up a few minutes later.

When firefighters arrived, the structure was fully engulfed in flames. The yard had been home to a double-wide mobile home with a garage and an attached building.

"It was too far gone to save the main structure," said Bill Pauli, chief of the Potter Valley Fire Department. "There were a lot of propane tanks. One of the main propane tanks blew, and we saw it coming, and heard it hissing, so everyone was way back. ... Really scary."

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