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Explosions, fire destroy rural Santa Rosa home

Explosions jolted residents in a rural neighborhood west of Santa Rosa on Wednesday, sending them out of their homes to the sight of a single-story house engulfed by flames and black smoke.

Fire destroyed the Ramondo Drive home, burned a car to its frame and killed three cats, firefighters said. One tenant of the ranch-style house got out of the home as fire erupted. Firefighters prevented the blaze from spreading to nearby homes and vegetation.

Firefighters found hundreds of butane gas containers inside and outside the gutted house, Central Fire Authority Investigator Cyndi Foreman said. The canisters, which were likely the source of at least some of the explosions, led firefighters to alert the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, Foreman said. She declined to say why they were suspicious.

A tenant of the burned home sat across the street and watched as firefighters attacked the blaze Wednesday. A woman with him said they would not comment.

ChiKay Hardy, who owns the Ramondo Drive home and lives in Colorado, said she first learned about the fire from her tenant, who had lived there for about a year with his wife, their 3-year-old daughter and several cats. The wife and child weren’t home, according to firefighters.

“He was crying, hysterical,” Hardy said. “They’ve lost everything.”

She said she was not aware of any illegal activity on the property.

The home is one of the few rented properties in the rural neighborhood off Irwin Lane between Highway 12 and Occidental Road, neighbors said.

The first of several calls reporting explosions and flames came in to 911 dispatchers at 10:35 a.m., Santa Rosa Fire Battalion Chief Mike Jones said. Santa Rosa firefighters worked with Rincon Valley, Sebastopol, Windsor and Gold Ridge fire crews.

Next door to the burning home, Ryan Voigt, 23, was asleep when an explosion woke him up.

“Chaos,” he said, describing the scene. “The neighbors were out. They were crying.”

“I first thought someone was shooting a gun,” said Jeff Griffeath, 63, who lives across the street. “There were individual explosions a few seconds apart. I came outside and the place was up in flames.”

A tall column of dark smoke rose up over the neighborhood, prompting Jim Kracke, an off-duty fire captain with the Glen Ellen Fire Protection District, to pull off Highway 12 and investigate the source of the smoke.

“When you see a black column of smoke like that, you know it’s something,” said Kracke, who helped responding firefighters set up hoses to battle the flames.

The fire originated in a garage that had been converted into a room, where firefighters found many of the butane gas containers, Foreman said. Investigators were unable to immediately determine how the fire started because of the extent of the damage, she said. Sheriff’s officials couldn’t be reached Wednesday about the case.

She said they would continue to look into the fire’s cause, including reviewing the 911 phone calls and viewing any video footage taken by bystanders. They were still waiting to interview the tenants.

Hardy said she raised her children at the Ramondo Drive home, where they lived from 2001 until 2010, the year her husband, Charles, died of cancer. That year, they moved away and began renting the property.

The current tenant, whom she did not identify, was a friend of her son, Kirby, who was killed in a vehicle crash in 2007.

“All I know is they are good people,” Hardy said of her tenants. “They are good people, and this is just heartbreaking. Even a house can be replaced, but they lost everything.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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