The early morning fire that claimed the lives of three occupants and seriously injured another in a Kingstowne community has been ruled accidental. Fairfax County Fire Investigators have determined the fire was caused by an unattended candle left burning on a ground floor patio. Combustible materials near the candle ignited, allowing the fire to extend to the structure. The three alarm blaze caused an estimated $3.8 million in damages to the multi-family building valued at $9 million
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 only to be overwhelmed by the flames, so he abandon the extinguisher and started pounding on doors.
"As far as I know, I got everybody out that I could. The flames were four or five 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 in the early hours of the morning to get residents out of their Manchester Lakes apartment as 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," added Penn.
When the fire broke out shortly before 5 a.m. in the 6900 block of Mary Caroline Circle, there were four members of the Mohammed family 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 South Whiting Street in Alexandria. 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, is hospitalized at Washington Hospital Center in stable condition.
Sable Waller knew the family. She lives in another building nearby.
"Her mom and the brother and sister, very sad," Waller said.
Johnson saw the Beshir jump from the third floor balcony. He was medevaced to Washington Hospital Center and is in stable condition.
"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 the 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. as well. It was a four 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.
There were also Red Cross trucks on the scene Monday, July 12 providing food assistance.