House fire kills one

A 67-year-old man died of smoke inhalation before firefighters could reach him after flames erupted in the resident’s Warren Street rental unit on Wednesday night.

Gary Finley was pronounced dead at the scene and an autopsy performed Thursday revealed he died of asphyxiation, according Tim Biggs of the Contra Costa County Coroner’s office. Martinez Police Sgt. Detective Jon Sylvia stressed while police had ruled out foul play, the exact cause of the fire and Finley’s death is still under investigation and would not be known until a toxicology report completed.

“It’s most likely accidental,” said Sylvia, explaining that surrounding neighbors reported smelling burning plastic in the hours prior to the fire. At 11:24 p.m., a caller told MPD dispatch that heavy smoke was billowing out from a house at the corner of Willow and Warren Streets, said Sylvia.

As two Contra Costa County Consolidated Fire engines arrived, another neighbor indicated that Finley lived in the detached unit behind a large boarding house at 1534/1524 Willow Street, consisting of five apartments in the main house, and several units in various adjacent outbuildings and structures, one of which was Finley’s accessory dwelling unit, or ‘mother-in-law’ apartment.

“[Fire personnel] made a forced entry, and as they doused the flames, they found the deceased,” Sylvia said. “Due to the numerous types of ignition sources inside of the apartment, as well as the condition of the apartment, the exact cause of the fire can not be determined [at this time].”

Martinez resident Delin Finley, who is married to Alan Finley, Gary’s son, confirmed Thursday that she and her husband had moved his father to Martinez from the Red Bluff area about nine months ago.

“Gary grew up as a preacher’s son and just loved music,” said Delin Finley about her father-in-law. Delin’s father and Buckley Street resident Paul Wilson remembered Gary Finley as “a regular, nice guy, always cordial.”

“He had just started to get out and about around town, I met him maybe six or seven times…he came to my house for the 4th of July this year. He was good to be around,” said Wilson.

Delin Finley said police knocked on the couple’s door at 3 a.m. on Thursday to alert them of the bad news.

The manager of the Willow/Warren Street boarding house complex, who asked not to be named but said he had been the manager for 20 years, also confirmed Thursday that Finley had been a tenant in the detached unit for four months. The manager told the Gazette the owner of the boarding house complex, recognizable by the matching fading pink paint on each building, was recently deceased and the property was currently in “legal limbo.”

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