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Fire Claims 8 Apartment Units

A lack of completion and therefore a lack of occupancy kept the number of civilian injuries and fatalities to zero during a three-alarm fire on the morning of Feb. 19 at Woodland Park in Herndon.

Located off Sunrise Valley Drive, the fire, reported at 1:45 a.m., was contained to the building at 13035 Elm Tree Drive, still under construction and about 60 percent completed, said Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department public information officer Daniel Schmidt.

The specific building in question contains 37 units, eight of which were damaged, but reparable, said the senior superintendent for Van Metre, the developer of the project. He said there are 373 rental units in the overall project, with an August of this year target for completion. "We’re still on target. The mild winter has been helpful," he said from the site.

FIREFIGHTERS ARRIVED on the scene in about four minutes, said Schmidt, bringing with them 20 pieces of apparatus. Station 04 from Herndon, 36 from Frying Pan, 25 from Reston, 29 from Tysons Corner, 12 from Great Falls and contributing assistance from Loudoun County worked to squelch the blaze, said Schmidt.

Approximately 60 firefighters fought the blaze with one lone injury, that of a broken arm to one of the firefighters. The firefighter fell from a stairwell that did not yet have its guardrail. He was sent to Reston Hospital, treated and released, said Schmidt.

"The fire kept from spreading due to the use of aerial ladder trucks and aggressive interior and exterior fire fighting. The fire was under control in about one hour," said Schmidt, adding that it was several additional hours until the fire was completely out.

AFTER DAYBREAK and a cooling down period, Fairfax County investigators from the Fire Marshal’s office were able to determine that the cause of the blaze was a "propane heater placed too close to combustible materials," said Schmidt. Workers had been using the space heaters to dry out recently installed drywall, a common but risky practice.

"Left unattended overnight, that’s an ingredient for fire," said Schmidt. "They were lucky the entire building didn’t burn down.

While the fire department placed the value of the damage at $250,000, the superintendent for Van Metre said the company’s insurance people are still doing their job to determine cost and value from an insurance standpoint.

"This was just a freak accident. The investigators were out here," from the fire department. "I haven’t seen the report. I know they said it wasn’t arson," the superintendent said.

Woodland Park is an apartment and townhouse rental community with 373 units, said Woodland Park assistant manager Blair Thompson. She said that 75 units are currently occupied with approximately another 50 units already leased. Monthly rentals run from $1,100 to $1,600 and the property features two pools, tennis courts a fitness center, business center as well as a resident bar and lounge area, said Thompson.