After a fire swept through the top floor of his home, early Monday morning, Ly Duong alternated between shock and grief as he saw the full extent of the damage in the light of day.
Flames had consumed the entire top floor, leaving nothing but charred debris in what was once the living room and kitchen of a split-level home in Centreville's Country Club Manor community. And what relatives managed to salvage of the family's soot-covered belongings had been stuffed into plastic bags and placed in the driveway.
"I think [the damage] is very bad," said Duong, who'd gotten his wife, children and mother safely out of the home. "I don't know if we'll be able to live here anymore."
Fairfax County fire investigators say discarded smoking materials near the deck caught on fire and ignited the deck. The flames soon spread to the house, itself, causing an estimated $300,000 damage. Fire and Rescue Department spokesman Dan Schmidt said some 15 units and approximately 70 firefighters responded to the two-alarm blaze.
It was around 12:45 a.m., and Duong, his mother (who's in her late 70s), his wife Ni Yen Ngo and their two children — a son, 5, and a daughter, 9 — were asleep. But not for long.
"My mom heard a popping sound and woke us up," said Duong. "She thought I was outside doing something." About that time, the family's smoke alarms went off, as well.
"I pulled my wife and kids outside," said Duong. "They were scared. I saw fire by the back window of the kitchen, [and it was] getting into the door. A neighbor called 911."
First-arriving firefighters reported smoke and fire shooting through the roof and attic of the home at 5305 Kimanna Drive. Units from the West Centreville Fire Station 38 were first on the scene, followed quickly by units and personnel from Centreville's Station 17 and stations in Fair Oaks, Chantilly and South Riding.
Pete Kirby, chief of the Centreville Volunteer Fire Department (Station 17), arrived at 1 a.m. and said heavy fire was also showing from the garage. "When it went to two alarms, even units from as far as Oakton and Herndon came," he said. "And a light-and-air truck came from Dunn-Loring with lighting equipment and air to resupply our air bottles."
Firefighters got the blaze under control in about 30 minutes and, said Schmidt, "The good news is that no one was injured and everyone got out safely." However, the family has been displaced and is now living with neighbors. That way, said Duong, "It'll be easier for the kids to go to school"
But the family also lost most of its belongings. "We just bought some winter clothes for the kids, and they're all gone," said Duong sadly. "We fixed the old hardwood floors last month and put up a new railing on the stairway [inside the house]."
Originally from Vietnam, he and his family have lived in Centreville about eight years. He's an electronics technician for passport cameras for Optical Electronics in Reston, and his wife works for DeLauro Security Printing in Sterling. Their children attend nearby Cub Run Elementary.
Monday morning, as colorful fall flowers bloomed in the front yard, a small cluster of relatives gathered in the Duongs' driveway. Others helped carry items from the now see-through house, while Duong awaited the arrival of an insurance adjuster.
Huge holes gaped through the roofs of the house and garage, and what was once the deck was no longer attached to the home. It had disintegrated into a water-soaked heap of charcoal on the ground. The interior of the ruined kitchen was visible from the outside, its architectural framework silhouetted against the bright, blue sky like a black skeleton.
Neighbors walking by stopped to tell Duong how badly they felt about the fire and offered food, clothing — anything they could do to help. Some even brought clothes for the children. "But my family and myself will be OK," said Duong stoically.
Yet an instant later, standing next to his burned-out garage where charred, destroyed bicycles lay in a helpless heap — and surveying the blackened back of his home — he became overcome with the futility of it all. As unbidden tears spilled from his eyes, he said, "I gave up everything once in my country, and now I've lost everything [here]."
But one thing Duong does have is a loving, close-knit family on whom he can draw for strength. "My mom has nine kids — all living in Virginia, except for one in Massachusets," he said. "And my sister and brother live in London Towne, so my family can stay with them, too."
Also on hand Monday morning was James Austin of Belfor, a disaster restoration-and-rebuilding company based in Sterling. His firm repaired Loudoun County High School after a fire, 2 1/2 years ago, and was called by Duong's insurance company to secure the property.
"We'll protect it against any further damage or from people walking through it," explained Austin. "We'll board it up and put a tarp on the roof." To repair a home after such a large fire, he said, "You clean out anything burned or smoke-damaged and start from there. Something like this would probably take six to eight months after getting the county permits to start the work."
Meanwhile, Angela Bennett, who lives in nearby Chalet Woods, has organized a food and clothing drive for the Duong family. Monday evening, she and her husband Rick and their three youngest children, ages 6, 3, and 2, walked through Country Club Manor distributing flyers.
"We just moved a mile away from the community and still have friends here," she said. "Our street was just off Kimanna, and I just felt compelled to do something. I went to the Duongs' home this morning and told them what I wanted to do. Ly said 'No, no,' and I said, 'Let your neighbors help you.'"
Then Bennett went to Kinko's in the Greenbriar Town Center and got the business to print 500 flyers for free. They tell what happened to the family and ask people to contribute whatever they can — clothes, food, toiletries, gift cards, cash, etc. And, said Bennett, "I'm also going to ask some of the stores and restaurants to donate items, too."
Also helping with the collection effort is resident Nita Day. To make a donation, call Bennett at 703-830-3985 or e-mail her at email@example.com, or contact Day at 703-830-6499.