One neighbor said she could hear the screams of two men trapped in the garage while a home burned around them in Paradise Hills Saturday night.
A 77-year-old man, identified Monday as Alex Ballesteros, was killed and his housemate, Robert Riggs, suffered serious injuries in the intense fire that started around 10:15 p.m. in the 2900 block of Calle Cumbre.
The fire spread so quickly that people who were trying to help had to pull back because of the heat, neighbor Christina Gomez said.
Gomez said she was quite shaken up because she heard the men screaming for their lives.
"This was so horrible," she said. "I've lived here for 30 years and they don't bother nobody."
It took firefighters 45 minutes to knock the fire down, San Diego Fire-Rescue spokeswoman Monica Munoz said Sunday.
Firefighters pulled the two men from the garage of the house and paramedics transported them to the hospital where Ballesteros later died.
Family members at the home Monday afternoon told NBC 7 that Ballesteros was kind and gentle, but also very private.
They said he was born in San Diego and attended Lincoln High School, and also served in the Air Force.
Ballesteros was also an accomplished artist, according to his nieces and nephew, and had his work featured around the globe. Family members weren't sure if any of his pieces were destroyed in the fire.
Many of his neighbors stopped by the home Monday to leave flowers in the driveway, a gesture that Ballesteros' family said touched their hearts.
Authorities said Ballesteros and Riggs were collectors or hoarders, which made it difficult for firefighters to get inside.
The cause of the fire is unknown but Metro Arson Strike Team investigators determined it was accidental, Munoz said.
Gomez said she heard some sort of explosion around the time of the fire.
"It was an explosion," she said. "I don't know if it was the heater or the stove popped, but that's what we heard."
Riggs is expected to be released from the hospital soon. Ballesteros's family said they will take in Riggs, who has no home to go back to.