Four homes were severely damaged when a fire broke out in a row of South Riding townhouses late in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 28. One man was injured in the fire that broke out in a row of seven townhouses on the corner of Katama Square and Center Street. The man was flown to Washington Hospital Center where he is undergoing burn treatment.
While Loudoun County Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Mary Maguire said in a press release that the cause of the fire, which caused an estimated $2 million in damages, is still under investigation, the Fire Marshal's office was able to determine that it began on the lower level of an interior townhouse.
The Fire Marshal's office is canvassing the area looking for any witnesses to the fire, which broke out around 4 p.m.
RUBEN FABREGA, who lives in the sixth townhouse in the row of seven, arrived home that Tuesday, around 3:30 p.m., and was upstairs lying down when he heard a "ruckus."
"I lay back down, but then I heard it again," he said. "It was really loud so I went outside on my balcony to see what was going on."
Fabrega, who lives with his wife and two daughters, said he saw something he could not believe.
"I saw a flame ball shoot out of the window of one of the houses," he said. "And you could hear the pop, pop, pop of the windows."
Grabbing his two daughters, Fabrega ran out of his house and away from the fire.
"We all have gas here so that's all I thought about," he said. "I was prepared to lose everything."
THE DAY AFTER it was clear that the second and third townhouses had been burned across the back and completely through the interior and the first and fourth townhouses had been damaged across the back.
Aryan Davod, 17, lived with her parents and three siblings in the fourth townhouse. At the time of the fire only her mother and her 9-year-old sister were at home.
"The man ran out of his house [where the fire is believed to have started] and came over and started banging on our door," she said. "He wanted my parents to help him. My mother just ran out of the house to find other help."
While only the balcony and one room of the Davod house were actually damaged, the family was told that the structure was not stable and they could not return home.
"They're telling us it will be several weeks or a couple of months before we are able to move back," Davod said. "We're staying at a relative's house, but my parents are already looking into another place for us to live."
Davod's family lived in their townhouse for more than three years and while their relative's house is also in South Riding, Davod expects that they would have to move elsewhere if they had to find another home.
"My parents are just running around trying to figure out what to do," she said.
As of last Wednesday, Davod's family had not been given any information as to the cause of the fire.
"I don't want to move all of my stuff out," she said. "I just want to go home."
ALL OF THE townhouses built in Virginia are built under uniform statewide codes that have been in affect since 1973. Every couple of years the codes are updated or changed. The townhouses in South Riding were most likely built under the 1996 state building codes, Dennis Mitchell of the county's Department of Building and Development said. The townhouses were required to be built with a two-hour rated firewall, which is meant to contain a fire within the walls of one home for up to two hours.
However, these walls can't protect against every fire scenario, Louis Genuario of the Genuario Companies, said.
"If there is a fire on the outside of a building, it can jump the firewall," said Genuario, whose company was not involved with the building of the South Riding townhouses. "And when you're talking about firewalls, an explosion doesn't count."
The Fire Marshal's office is continuing its investigation and asks that anyone who may have seen the fire when it started to contact the Fire Marshal's office through the Sheriff's Office tip line at 703-777-1919.
"This process takes time," Chief Fire Marshal Keith Brower said in a press release. "Our office is working to determine what might have started the fire."