Early Sunday morning, Preston "Shorty" Penn saw smoke coming from the building next door in the Victoria Crossings Condominiums, grabbed his fire extinguisher and ran over. Overwhelmed by the flames, he abandoned the extinguisher and started pounding on doors.
"As far as I know, I got everybody out that I could. The flames were 4 or 5 feet tall. The heat was intense. I could only make it to the first-floor landing," Penn said.
Penn was one of the heroes, neighbors said, along with Carl Johnson and Bob Togbe, who went into action Sunday, July 11, in the early hours of the morning to get residents out of their Manchester Lakes apartments. Flames spread quickly, killing three members of one family in a third-floor apartment.
Johnson went around knocking on doors, yelling for everyone to get out, too.
"We were doing what we could. The smoke was intense," Johnson said.
A neighbor named "Jay" pointed to Johnson.
"He's a hero. He went around getting everyone out. He saved someone's life," Jay said.
"I got everybody in my building out," said Penn.
When the fire broke out shortly before 5 a.m., in the 6900 block of Mary Caroline Circle, four members of the Mohammed family were in a third-floor apartment. The fire claimed the lives of Sadia Mohammed, 68, and her daughter, Anisa Yassin, 36, both of 6915 Mary Caroline Circle. The third victim was Mohammed's niece, Iftu Salah, 16, of 225 S. Whiting St. in the Alexandria area. The cause of death has been determined to be carbon monoxide poisoning, due to smoke inhalation. Mohammed's son, Hassen Beshir, 35, of 6915 Mary Caroline Circle, was med-evac’d to Washington Hospital Center, where he was reported to be in stable condition.
Johnson saw him jump from a third-floor balcony.
Sable Waller knew the family. She lives in another building nearby.
"Her mom and the brother and sister, very sad," Waller said.
"The brother, he jumped. From my understanding, he was severely burned," Johnson said.
THE MANCHESTER LAKES condominiums were a hub of activity for the rest of that day, with the Red Cross stepping in and setting up a command post at the recreation center for all those displaced by the fire. Station 22 in Springfield provided a canteen truck for firefighters all day. Residents of nearby condominiums looked on, talking with each other as passersby stopped to look at the burned-out apartment building.
Lt. Mark Stone, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue spokesperson, kept track of the information as it was released by the firefighters. Stone arrived around 5 a.m. for the three-alarm fire.
"You've got 12 condominiums under one roof linked to another condo, all wood construction, so it was a lot of fire when we got here this morning," Stone said. "We had evacuated all the adjoining buildings. Some complained of smoke inhalation," Stone said.
Penn has family in the area that will help him, but for Sunday night, "the Red Cross is going to help us," Penn said.
According to Cameron Ballentyne, Red Cross spokesperson, the fire displaced 50 people.
"We set up a shelter at the Calvary Road Baptist Church. Most of the people stayed at friends and relatives," Ballentyne said.
Red Cross trucks were also on the scene Monday, July 12, providing food and assistance.
Fairfax County Fire Investigators have determined the fire was caused by an unattended candle left burning on a ground-floor patio and ruled the fire accidental. Combustible materials near the candle ignited, allowing the fire to extend to the structure. The blaze caused an estimated $3.8 million in damages to the multifamily building, valued at $9 million.
In cases such as this, any criminal charges would be filed by the Fairfax County Fire Marshal’s office.
"It was listed as an accidental fire, from a fire investigator’s standpoint. There are no charges filed," Stone said.