SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KTVU) - A Santa Rosa man, lauded as a hero during October's firestorm, is being mourned after a fatal heart attack.
Ralph Casale was only 52.
His loss is being felt, not only by his family and friends, but a grateful community.
"He really saved our lives and everyone else too," said Gwen Moylan, a Fountain Grove neighbor of the Casales.
Moylan's house burned down October 8, along with the Casales property, and many others in a woodsy pocket of Parker Hill Road.
The firestorm erupted suddenly, and late at night, and with little official warning, people barely got out ahead of the flames.
The Tubbs fire trapped and killed 22 victims, but without Ralph Casale, the number almost certainly would have been higher.
"They said 'Thank you Ralph, you did a noble thing, " read his widow Esther Casale from a neighbor's handwritten note. "That night waking everyone up, you saved us, thank you."
On Wednesday Aug 8, Ralph Casale collapsed and died at the gym, despite efforts to revive him.
He leaves behind a large and loving family, including his wife of 16 years, her two adult children he adopted, and the couple's 14-year-old son.
And among his neighbors, he leaves a legacy.
"We had no clue there was fire, no sound, no smell," remembers Moylan. "Then Ralph came down my driveway, honking his horn, pounding on our front door, and I opened up and he said 'you have to leave right now.'"
That night, after Casale led his family to safety, he returned to roam the narrow, twisting roads of his neighborhood.
He banged on neighbor’s doors and windows, jumped fences, and shouted to get sleeping sleeping people up and out.
He alerted at least 20 households to the fire bearing down, and even checked on them more than once to make sure they were leaving.
"It took everything I had just to get my family out of the house," said Moylan, " so it was absolutely amazing, and we wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for him."
What Casale did, makes his family proud, but not surprised.They describe him as a man of faith, a man who was friendly to everyone he met.
"He was a humble guy and he was real," said Toni Casale, wiping away tears. "He wasn't somebody who was different depending on who he was with, he cared about you and you knew it, and he was real."
At the ruins of Casale's house, the thank you notes left on the gate made him cry.He always shrugged off the hero accolades.
"He said 'what else could I do?'", recalled wife Esther, " he said 'I had to do that because if they didn't get out, how would I feel?'"
Now the family faces life without him.
Even as a building contractor, Casale was frequently aggravated and overhwhelmed by the financial hassles of rebuilding.
His insurance company had paid in full, but his mortgage company was withholding funds, doling them out slowly.
Some wonder if that played a role in his death.
"I thought wow this guy has some great karma, he's going to be okay forever," said fire survivor Lindsay Moylan-Harriman.
"So I was just shocked to hear he died, but at the same time it is really stressful to rebuild."
Ralph Casale's loved ones will cherish the notes of appreciation, and their memories of him.
"He was a great friend, my best friend," said Esther Casale, "and I'm going to miss him a lot, but I'm going to see him again."
Friends have established a GoFundMe account to help with Casale family expenses. His memorial service will be held Saturday Aug. 18 at 2 pm at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, 292 Millbrae Avenue in Santa Rosa.