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1 dead after fire engulfs home west of Santa Rosa

A rural west Santa Rosa home was engulfed by fire early Wednesday morning and firefighters who managed to douse the flames within about 10 minutes of their arrival found inside the ruined home the burned body of a man believed to be the 71-year-old resident.

The body was found on the kitchen floor of the Duer Road home, not far from where fire officials think the flames ignited, in or near a wall separating the kitchen and front door. Though an official cause hadn’t been determined, electrical wiring was suspected, said Cyndi Foreman, the Rincon Valley fire prevention officer who was leading the investigation.

Why the man was in the kitchen wasn’t clear. But if it was the resident, he was known to sleep on the living room couch and may have awakened to find fire blocking his way to the front door and was trying to get out another way, Foreman said.

The resident’s name wasn’t released Wednesday, but neighbors identified him as Dennis Marino.

He lived alone in what had been his family’s longtime home and had a distant relationship with his neighbors, who Wednesday told of the man’s struggles with drinking, coupled with heavy smoking.

“Our biggest concern was he would burn down the house,” said neighbor Anita Levine Goldberg.

Because of the extensive burns, the man’s identity will be confirmed by dental records, according to the Sonoma County Coroner’s Office.

Early Wednesday, neighbors woke to flames and a glow on the street, calling for help about 5:15 a.m., according to emergency dispatch records.

One caller was Hailey Mason, a Sonoma State University student who lives nearby in a travel trailer at her grandparents’ home. Sometime around 5 a.m. she’d awakened to a bright light in her face and looked outside.

“I opened my eyes and saw the middle of the roof of the house completely on fire,” Mason said.

A Sebastopol fire engine arrived first, at 5:24 a.m., and firefighters found the single-story home engulfed in flames, officials said.

“Fire was through 100 percent of the roof,” which had partially collapsed into the house, said Santa Rosa fire Battalion Chief Mark Basque, who arrived just behind the first engine.

Several other agencies responded, bringing engines and extra water tenders as there are no hydrants in the rural neighborhood.

Three water tenders shuttled up and down the potholed county road during the effort to resupply firefighters with water.

The fire had burned for a significant amount of time before it was discovered, based on how far the flames had spread by the time firefighters arrived, Foreman said.

When the fire was out, flames had gutted the older-model, ranch-style home, leaving the outer shell and garage. Just feet from the charred front entryway a tall, blooming pink camellia bush remained, with the top slightly singed.

Foreman and a team of investigators spent hours going through the remains, trying to get to the cause but finding the damage was too extensive, she said. The damage was estimated as much as $600,000 to replace the home.

Because the resident was a heavy smoker, investigators also were looking at smoking materials as a possible cause of the fire.

Crews from Sebastopol, Santa Rosa, Rincon Valley, Windsor, Gold Ridge and Forestville fire agencies responded. Duer Road connects to Highway 12, between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.

The house had been in the resident’s family for decades and was where he lived in younger years, neighbors said. The resident’s mother, Estelle Marino, died in 2016 and he’d moved in. The property, however, was owned by a bank, Foreman said.

Concerns about a fire had led neighbors to contact his family and to attempt to reach bank officials about what they feared was a dangerous situation.

“He was someone who was not doing well in life,” Mason said. “It was kind of a messy situation.”

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707-521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rossmannreport.

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