A native of Bolivia, Silvia Cadima came to the United States in 1993. For seven years, she cleaned houses, saving for a down payment on a two-story house in Sugarland Run. Last Thursday, she watched her dream go up in flames.
"I can't explain. I was in shock. I saw my house," Cadima said, ending the sentence with the palms of her hands lifted up in a questioning gesture.
Although Cadima learned English after coming to America, she intermittently conversed in Spanish with her son, Oscar, 15, after the fire. He translated, "Like the whole house, she worked hard for it. She's a single mom."
The fire broke out at 318 Avondale Drive about 5 a.m. last Thursday. Fire rescue units from Sterling Park, Cascades, Fairfax County, Ashburn and Leesburg responded. Firefighters contained the flames that were shooting from the rear of the house within 20 minutes, Loudoun Fire and Rescue officials said. Damage was estimated at $200,000, and the cause is under investigation.
HIS AUNT, Rosanna Cadima, said she woke up a little after 5 a.m. with a burning sensation in her throat. "I see the smoke in the air," she said. "And I go to the kitchen. The light don't work. I see a lot of black smoke. I go upstairs and I say, "Fire! Fire! Fire!"
Actually, she spoke rapidly in her native tongue. "Fuego! Fuego! Fuego! A la casa esta quemando. [The house is on fire.]"
She collected her two daughters, Adriana, 12, and Sara, 2. They had been visiting along with the childrenÕs grandmother Sinforosa Lopez, who also ran out of the house. Silvia Cadima grabbed her 19-month-old daughter, Nicole. Her cousin, Fabio Castro, 34, and Oscar also rushed outside. The eight relatives stood on the street in their pajamas as the building burned. Most of the fire was concentrated on the back half of the house.
Oscar said his grandmother, aunt and cousins were crying. "I was scared my house was going to burn down completely," he added.
Silvia and Rosanna Cadima said they ran across the street and knocked on Clarence Nidell's door. In an interview Sunday, Nidell said that he heard the knocking and yelling at 5:20 a.m. He called 911, but someone already had reached the fire department. Before long, pajama-clad neighbors stood watching from outside their homes.
Nidell's neighbor, Ken Page, said he came out after hearing a lot of voices. "The whole street was clogged with people talking," he said.
Before the firefighters arrived, Silvia Cadima's brother, Jose Cadima, ran into the house, mistakenly fearing his mother was inside, and singed his hair. He lives on the same street.
Lopez, 61, had her bags packed, planning to return to Bolivia the next day, Oscar Cadima said. He said she tried to go back inside to retrieve her passport and other important documents. His mother and Castro grabbed her, preventing her from entering the burning building.
Rosanna Cadima said her daughter had woken up at 4 a.m. for a feeding, and there was no sign of trouble. Because the light switch failed to illuminate the kitchen an hour later, she and her family thought an electric malfunction might have caused the fire.
THE AMERICAN RED Cross provided emergency financial assistance. The family lost everything. The back of the house was heavily charred Sunday, and the front windows were boarded up. Silvia Cadima said she will meet with her insurance company this week. She said she does not know what she will do. The family sleeps at a hotel, but spends evenings and weekends with Jose Cadima. Anyone with donations of money, clothing and household goods should call the mother or her son, Oscar, at her brother's home, 571-752-1974.
Another neighbor, Allison Lemieux, 17, posted the need for food and clothing donations on a "My Space" Web site. She e-mailed friends and compiled clothes and other items from her bedroom. "I was going to have a yard sale anyway. I gave them a lot of my stuff."
Two of her friends also brought clothes over. Allison said the Cadimas provided comfort on Nov. 20, when a drunken driver totaled her car, which was parked outside her home. She said she will always remember the date of the 2:30 a.m. crash. ÒIt was my birthday. They were out there helping me," she said. "I want to help them."