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Cause of fatal Healdsburg fire traced to stove

Published: Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 4:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 1:28 p.m.

A 34-year-old Healdsburg man who died of injuries suffered in a Saturday morning fire at his home apparently was doing one of the most mundane of tasks when the deadly blaze erupted.

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Troy Voelkel

COURTESY PHOTO

"It appeared that (he) was attempting to light the stove and a flash fire occurred, catching (his) clothes on fire," Sonoma County Fire Chief Mark Aston said Sunday.

Troy Voelkel, who fought his way out of the burning apartment through a window, suffered second- and third-degree burns over his entire body, Aston said. He died 10 hours later, at 7 p.m., at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where he had been flown, said his father, Ed Voelkel.

Fire officials were at the scene of the 9 a.m. fire, which occurred when Voelkel was alone, in a rural area west of Healdsburg for eight hours Saturday.

They said although the investigation wasn't officially closed, they believed Voelkel likely had no warning of the explosion of flames.

Investigators found a tube directing gas to the stove's burner was disconnected, said County Fire Marshal Roberta MacIntyre.

"Presumably, trying to get it started, that compartment that's between the oven and the burners, where all the gas piping goes, filled with natural gas," MacIntyre said.

"You get that gas in a little compartment like that, you've got essentially a little bit of a bomb," she said.

Voelkel lived with two roommates and had moved only a month or so ago to the small, single-family house on West Grant Street, west of Highway 101. But he had called Healdsburg home since he was 18 when his family moved from Orange County, his father said.

Although bothered by allergies, "he loved it here," Ed Voelkel said.

Troy Voelkel remained attached to where he had come from. In February, he posted on his Facebook page a good-natured jab at Northern Californians who speak ill of Southern California.

"I think it's pretty funny how much trash talk I hear people up in NorCal talk about SoCal. It's the complete opposite down there. Down there people don't feel the need to belittle NorCal. I have lived in both places and I love it up here, but give me a fricken break!" he wrote.

Later, in responding to comments on his posting, he added: "i still would rather be up here tho!"

His other recent Facebook posts also illustrate an enthusiastic take on life that family members said was infectious.

"I am so happy in life I'm having difficulty sleeping cuz I can't wait for the next day!!!" he wrote Feb. 20.

"You couldn't be around him him without him causing you to laugh or smile -- he was always the light in the room," said one of his three brothers, Gavin Voelkel of San Diego.

Troy Voelkel worked for many years in the hospitality industry as a waiter and also as a concierge for several hotels.

Recently, he was planning to start a T-shirt business and a personal concierge business to facilitate tourist visits to wineries. He had just bought a Volvo station wagon to ferry clients, Ed Voelkel said.

"He had a lot of get up and go," he said.

Voelkel was an avid skateboarder, his father said, was a national tae kwon do champion in his teens and, like the rest of his family, was a skilled artist who did sculpture, painted and drew.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.

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