Michael Dornbach, 57, a retired longshoreman from Southern California, was in the area to find a small piece of land where he could put a cabin and go to fish, garden and be outdoors.
He was visiting relatives at their mountain home outside Calistoga when the fire broke out last week.
His 18-year-old nephew and others pleaded with him to evacuate, but he was looking for his keys and didn't want to leave without his new pickup truck, said his sister, Laura Dornbach, who lives in Calistoga.
Others evacuated. His body was found the next day in the driveway.
"It has devastated us," she said. "He was beautiful. He was strong and Italian and stubborn."
His mother, Maria Triliegi, said he had saved up money and was meeting with a real estate agent to find a piece of land in the surrounding Napa region where he could move.
"He'd go up there to fuel his energy," Laura Dornbach said. "That was one of his favorite places in the world. He loved the country. He loved the outdoors."
Dornbach lived in a little house next door to his mother's home in San Pedro, California, and he would come to her house every day to have coffee.
"He had such a big heart," his mother said. He would bring clothes and food to homeless people, and often asked her over Thanksgiving to save a dish or two so he could bring it to others.
He fished on the Pacific Ocean, and he loved looking at the mountains and the stars a night, his sister said.