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Oct 12, 3:17 PM EDT

Fire survivor regrets not pulling neighbors from their home


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AP Photo/Jonathan Copper

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) -- As his house filled with smoke from one of California's devastating wine country fires, Ryan Nelson's thoughts went to his elderly neighbors - one of whom has multiple sclerosis.

He ran over and pounded on their doors and windows but wasn't able to get their attention. Now he fears they didn't make it out and wonders whether he could have done more to help.

"We're in the middle of the city, so that's never crossed anybody's mind here in terms of everything being a total fire loss," Nelson said. "That's why I didn't kick his door in. I just thought I'd come back to the house."

Nelson was in his Santa Rosa neighborhood on Wednesday going through the ruins of his house to try to find his grandfather's rifles, including an M-1 carbine from World War II, that he kept in a gun safe.

He found only pieces. His neighbors' home was also a total loss.

Nelson knows the man only as Manjeet and said he has never met or seen his wife, who had multiple sclerosis. Manjeet, who was in his 70s, has no car and is fairly "reclusive," Nelson said, seen occasionally walking to the nearby Trader Joe's or elsewhere in the neighborhood in a blue or white turban and sandals. He rarely answered the door if Nelson knocked.

"Nobody ever sees him or talks to him, but when you do see him he's got everything in the world to talk about," Nelson said.

Nelson said he awoke to the sound of a frightened dog scratching at the door.

The dog followed him as he went to alert neighbors, but he lost track of her and doesn't know whether she survived and was rescued.

Nelson said he underestimated the fire.

"My regret isn't doing more to try to save anything, it was more I feel like I could've forced entry into their house and pulled them out of bed or done something more to help him get out," Nelson said.

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