A woman perished in a fire Thursday that destroyed all but the shell of a Petaluma mobile home, fire officials said.
Neighbors identified the resident as Betty Ferry, a feisty elderly woman who has lived at the Leisure Lake Village mobile home park off Stony Point Road along the western edge of Highway 101 for perhaps a decade.
Ferry was born in Texas and just turned 88 on New Year's Eve, records show.
A group of residents stood by as dusk fell watching firefighters pick through what remained of the single-wide coach and douse any remaining hot ashes.
"It is really sad, she had a real personality," park manager Terry Pederson, 73, said.
Petaluma Fire Chief Larry Anderson said people started calling 911 at 3:08 p.m. reporting black smoke and flames were spewing from the mobile home park.
Ferry's coach was tucked on the northeastern corner of the village between a neighbor, the highway and Denman Road.
Next door neighbor Mike Kuchner, 79, was on his way back from walking his dog when he saw Ferry's coach was aflame.
Kuchner said he tried to open her door but could not.
"It was just too hot," Kuchner said.
When the first firefighters arrived at 3:11 p.m. the blaze "was going like gangbusters; it was a defensive operation," Anderson said.
Metal awnings created caves of fire surrounding the home, Anderson said.
Kuchner's coach was only about 20 feet to the south.
Fourteen firefighters with two engines and a ladder truck battled the blaze and had controlled it by 3:38 p.m.
They found a woman's body once inside, Anderson said.
Kuchner's home was spared and the leaves of a tree between their homes just barely singed.
Neighbors of the community, home to mostly retired and elderly people, expressed shock and grief. Several said they hoped Ferry's beloved cat was curled up with her.
Ferry was described as a private woman with a fiery personality by several who said they knew her.
"She was a sweet lady," said Al Everhart, 79, and added with a smile: "She could give you a hard time though."
"We became really good friends, but it took about two years to win her over," said Pederson, the manger.
A woman across the road looked after Ferry and knew her best, neighbors said. The woman, distraught, declined to be interviewed.
Dianne Prevette, 68, a neighbor from across the park, said she and her husband saw the smoke as they drove home.
"You could see flames shooting up," said Prevette, a resident since 1976. "You have to be very careful with mobile homes, they burn right up."
With shivering temperatures Thursday, Pederson said he wondered if something went awry with her electric heater.
"Just an hour before we saw her," Pederson said. "We saw her puttering in her yard."