FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Melissa Mellino was woken up by her two sons on Wednesday morning as they evacuated their home on Thorne Avenue, going outside to find their next-door neighbor’s home engulfed in flames.

“So smokey…absolute chaos. There were a lot of neighbors out here trying to help out, trying to catch the dogs… Everyone was yelling that someone was still inside,” she said.

The person inside was a 26-year-old male who officials have yet to officially identify.

Melissa knows him as her friend and says although he had nonverbal autism, he always found ways to communicate and be a good neighbor.

“He would say hi. He always called to our dog and my baby. He loved to be involved in everything. If you were mowing your lawn he would come out and take over. He knew how to work every piece of landscaping equipment. He was very smart. I considered him a friend,” she said.

Deputy Fire Marshal Jay Tracy said the cause of the fire and the cause of death are still under investigation, but they believe the victim likely died of smoke inhalation.

“It’s usually just a couple of deep breaths of those super heated gases and products of combustion that is enough to get somebody pretty quickly,” he said.

It’s the fifth fire fatality of the year in Fresno, which is an increase from last year. Tracy said the department is utilizing its support staff.

“…Making sure our guys are able to sit down and get that load off their shoulders, sort of talk about what they’re seeing…” he said.

Melissa has started a GoFundMe for the victim’s family to help with funeral expenses and home repair.