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Fire Leaves One Dead

Cause of deadly two-alarm blaze is still under investigation.

A fire that started in a first floor condominium Sunday evening at Northgate Square in Reston left one resident dead and four others injured.

Fire investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the two-alarm blaze, which started at approximately 6:50 p.m. and took firefighters nearly an hour to extinguish.

"This was one of those bad ones," said Renee Stilwell, a Fairfax County Fire and Rescue spokeswoman. "This was not your common fire."

The name of the man killed in the fire has not yet been released, pending notification of his next of kin, said Officer Bud Walker, a Fairfax County Police Department spokesman.

The fire swept through eight homes, leaving the families displaced and many of their belongings destroyed.

Several residents were rescued by firefighters using ladders, but others, trapped by heavy smoke and fire in the stairwell, jumped out of third-story windows to escape.

Also, a 2-year-old girl was either dropped by relatives or jumped out a top-floor window into a blanket held by her neighbors.

A hairless cat named "Catapus" was also saved by firefighters, witnesses said Monday morning.

"This was harrowing stuff," Stilwell said. "We don't get a lot of fires that get that nasty."

THE FIRE gutted the inside of all eight units at 1432 Northgate Sq., leaving the homes and the stairwell blackened from fire and smoke.

Monday morning, workers boarded up the buildings windows and removed piles of debris.

Fire investigators estimated the blaze caused more than $220,000 of damage.

Lilian Grant, who lives in the same row of condominiums where the fire took place, said she was alerted by the sirens Sunday evening and came outside where she saw the fire raging in the nearby condos.

"That's such a shame about that man who died," Grant said. "It's just terrible."

OUT OF THE TRAGEDY, some Northgate Square residents have seen a bit of good emerge, said Sandra Warren, the site manager.

"My residents are beautiful. They're all asking what they can do to help," said Warren, who is baby-sitting the cat while its owner is living in temporary housing. "Everybody has really come together over this."

Warren has given a couple residents a temporary place to stay at the complex, which is located on Wiehle Avenue across from St. Thomas a Becket Catholic Church.

"It's actually kind of a nice story, in some respects," she said. "It's tragic, but people are really coming together to help out."

During the fire, the church opened its doors for the evacuated residents, gave them something to eat and offered rides to anyone who needed one.

The Red Cross is providing temporary housing at local hotels for others displaced by the fire, Stilwell said.

THANKS TO fairly stringent fire code inspections, fatal fires are relatively rare in Fairfax County, Stilwell said.

In early July, three people were killed by smoke inhalation in a Kingstowne/Franconia area condominium fire.

In Reston, there have been a small number of fires in the last year, though no fatalities. A two-alarm house fire in Reston on Sept. 21 injured three firefighters and caused $500,000 worth of damage. And on June 9, a single family home on Stuart Road was destroyed, leaving three pets dead, after a resident accidentally disposed of smoking materials improperly.