At least eight people in three apartments were displaced last week when unattended smoking materials on a second-floor balcony caused a fire at an apartment building in Centreville.
The two-alarm blaze occurred last Thursday, April 7, around 11:50 a.m., at 14406 Hardee Chambliss Court in the Newgate community. Firefighters arrived to find fire visible from the side and rear of the structure.
"IT'S UNBELIEVABLE," said neighbor Tracy Horn who lives across the street. "It's incredible that everyone made it out."
The building contains six apartments, but there are now signs taped to the front doors of apartments 1, 2 and 3 reading, "This area is unsafe and its use or occupancy has been prohibited by the fire official."
The fire department estimates the damage at $800,000, and the American Red Cross is assisting the five adults and three children who were displaced. The fire began outside Apt. 1, and Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department spokesman Raul Castillo said "improper disposal of smoking materials — cigarette butts" was the culprit.
Neighbors were able to rescue several family pets, including a dog, prior to the fire department's arrival. Two cats were taken to a hospital for treatment. Firefighters brought the blaze under control in abut 20 minutes, and no one was injured.
Some 31 fire and rescue units responded, including personnel and equipment from both Centreville fire stations, Chantilly, Fair Oaks, the City of Fairfax, Vienna, Oakton, Frying Pan and Dunn Loring.
The victims were not identified, but a neighbor said they have rental insurance. The next evening, as residents arrived home from work or walked with children through the neighborhood, many paused to gaze at the charred building. A blue tarp covered the roof of Apt. 1 on the corner, and a blackened pile of debris filled the side yard.
Driving home, Horn stopped her car to survey the scene. "It's amazing," she said. "I came home late last night; it was dark and I didn't see it. I wonder who pays for the damage?"
James Balloue walked his dog while his daughter rode her bike. They and his wife live in an apartment in the court across the street. He'd heard about the fire, the day it happened.
"We just bought a house in Manassas, and our Realtor called and said there was a fire," said Balloue. "My family wasn't home, but my dog and ferret were, so I was scared. I feel bad for the people who lived here. It was a very tragic thing. Thank God, no one was killed."
Another neighbor, Eric Motz, who also lives across the street, found out about the fire on Friday. "I'm surprised," he said. "I saw the yellow tape when I went to work this morning, and I thought, 'Damn, when did this happen?'"
KATHY SLUCK, who lives in a nearby townhouse, said her husband told her about it because "from my townhouse you could see the tarp." As for the victims, she said, "I hope they're OK. I was shocked when I saw it."
Meanwhile, the fire department advises residents to completely douse cigarette butts and ashes with water before throwing them away because "they can smolder and cause a fire." Fire officials warn people to never smoke in bed, use large deep ashtrays with a center support and check furniture for any dropped ashes before going to bed.
Ashes should always be emptied into fireproof containers with water and sand. And smoking materials should be kept away from anything that can burn, such as mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, draperies, etc.