A Herndon family is lucky to be alive after an early-morning fire, that began in a backyard charcoal grill, destroyed their home and killed all three of the family's house cats, fire officials said.
The two-alarm blaze started at approximately 2:45 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 22 on the backyard deck of the home of Tom and Jody Rametta at 12545 Rock Ridge Road several hours after the family enjoyed a typical backyard summer barbecue.
"My son woke us up when he heard noises out back and he saw the fire in our backyard," said Jody Rametta, who is the administrator for Herndon Youth Soccer and has lived in her home for 12 years. "He woke everybody up; he saved us."
Rametta's son Alex, 14, a rising freshman at Herndon High School, ran into his parents room shortly after awaking to the sound of popping wood and breaking glass. "He saved our lives. We would have been trapped up on the second floor," Rametta said. "He's a hero, no doubt about it."
"We looked out of the window and said, 'oh my God, we have to get out of here right now.'" Acting quickly, Rametta and her husband, John, who is a soccer coach and referee, woke their 17-year-old daughter Nicole, a rising senior at Herndon, and the family of four ran down stairs and escaped out the front door.
The first Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department on the scene requested a second alarm when they found fire shooting out of windows on the home's second floor. It took firefighters approximately 50 minutes to bring the fire under control. The fire caused an estimated $300,000 in damage and slightly damaged the siding of an adjacent home, said Dan Schmidt, a fire spokesman.
The fire was ruled accidental, Schmidt said. Fire investigators determined that sparks from a charcoal grill ignited the backyard deck before moving swiftly up the first and second stories of the Rametta's two-story colonial home.
Rametta said her family lost almost everything they had, including three pet cats. "When I walked back into the house this morning, I thought we might find the cats," she said, choking back tears. "But it was just black charred rubble everywhere and our only urge was to get out."
While Rametta said she wanted to go back inside her burning home to save her three cherished pets, she said her husband wouldn't let her go back inside. "I just keep thinking maybe I could have saved one if I had just gone back in, but it was flaming everywhere."
The Ramettas, who were insured, said they were only able to salvage some clothes that were down in the basement. "It's the cats. You know a house is just a house filled with possessions, but it's the cats. They found one basically burnt to a crisp right behind the sliding glass door in back. I love those cats more than anything. It's not the house; it's the cats."
While looking for a rental property, the Ramettas will be staying with family in the area. "The neighbors and my family have been great," she said standing in her neighbor's driveway on the morning after the fire. "People we don't even know have been driving by offering help, everyone has just been wonderful."