A 63-year-old man residents called a well-loved neighborhood fixture was killed when a late-night fire destroyed a Manhasset home Sunday.
Nassau County police refused to release the man's name until relatives could be contacted, but neighbors and residents of the home identified him as Rudy Ford.
Investigators believe the Grandview Avenue fire was accidental and was caused by "careless disposal of smoking materials," police said Monday.
A neighbor, Bobby Vaughan, said Ford had arthritis and used a cane to get around. "He's a good guy," Vaughan said. "He was a lovely person."
The homeowner, Esther Beck, 69, said she had known Ford for more than four decades. "He's like my brother," she said.
Police said the fire was reported at 10:45 p.m. after home residents smelled smoke coming from a basement apartment area in the home.
A resident, who was not identified by police, told officers he heard the victim "yelling for help" - but was unable to reach the downstairs area "due to the thick smoke."
The resident, a relative of Beck, then removed his own family from the home and called 911, police said.
"We went over there to try to get him," Vaughan said of the attempt to rescue the victim. "The flames were too hot."
The family dog, Freedom, also died in the blaze, officials said. "He wouldn't run out of the house. He was waiting" for the victim to escape, said Beck's daughter, Lorraine.
Officials said four people suffered minor injuries. Beck was treated for smoke inhalation at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.
Three firefighters from the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department suffered heat exhaustion, according to Chief Michael Uttaro. About 120 firefighters were on the scene and Uttaro said it took about 1 1/2 hours to put out the fire, which he said destroyed the home. The house had been under renovation, Uttaro said.
He said the first volunteer arrived on the scene four minutes after the call was placed - but found the house already "fully engulfed" in flames.
The fire department chief said firefighters were unable to gain access to the home due to the smoke and flames. "We made several rescue attempts," Uttaro said. "But it was pretty futile."
With John Valenti