A load of laundry changed Nicole Reaves' life on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 28.
As the mother of three buttered a bagel for her 6-year-old daughter Nishan Reaves, she smelled smoke.
"I didn’t think much about it at first," Reaves said.
Reaves sat down on her couch in the living room. Then she remembered she had laundry drying in the basement of her Sterling home.
She walked down the stairs and opened the dryer. Gray smoke snuck out of the dryer door.
"I ran upstairs to grab the telephone," Reaves said. "By the time I got back, the room was filled with heavy smoke."
Reaves, coughing from the thick smoke, ran back upstairs to get the fire extinguisher. As she reached under her sink, she yelled to her daughter, "Put your pants and shoes on and go outside."
Reaves ran back down the stairs and aimed the fire extinguisher at the smoking dryer.
The fire extinguisher was empty.
The frantic mother dialed 911 and headed for the door. She ran two houses down to borrow a fire extinguisher from her neighbor.
By the time she returned home, the windows were black from the smoke and the blinds were melting. Distant sirens signaled fire trucks were on their way.
The single mother watched everything she worked hard for go up in smoke. Nishan cried for her baby dolls.
THE REAVES FAMILY is well-known in the Sugarland Run area. Reaves' oldest son, C.J. Reaves, graduated from Dominion High School in 2004, after playing varsity football there. She has two younger children in the Loudoun County Public School System. Beandre, 13, attends Seneca Ridge Middle School and is active in sports there and Nishan is a first-grader at Sugarland Elementary School.
"Nishan acts like a normal 6-year-old," Reaves said. "She is anxious to move, but occupied with toys and dolls that have been donated to her and some that I’ve bought."
On the Monday morning after the fire, Nishan informed her teacher, Kevin Pearson, of her family’s situation.
"She had a shocked look on her face when she came in that day," Pearson said. "She stayed by my side for the first week after it happened."
Pearson wanted to help the Reaves family, so he contacted the Sugarland PTO.
REAVES FAMILY FUND chairperson and PTO member Mera Diaz is a proud member of the Sugarland Run community. The four-year resident began the fund, with the support of Sugarland Elementary School principal Jennifer Ostrowski and assistant principal Jennifer Steeprow and Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run).
"I know our PTO is great. I talked to Mrs. Diaz because I knew she would get the ball rolling," Pearson said.
The initial committee, made up of teachers including Pearson and community members such as Sugarland Elementary School’s UPS driver Ron Lonon, has grown into a community project in just two months.
"My phone is ringing off the hook and my e-mail is filled with letters from people who want to help," Diaz said.
The Reaves Family Fund has already received cash and toy and clothing donations from community members.
"I loved Sugarland before. Now, when I walk around I’m so proud to be a part of this community," Diaz said.
Saturday, March 4, the organization will hold a pancake breakfast, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., at Sugarland Elementary School in Sterling, to raise money for the Reaves family.
REAVES’ MAIN CONCERN is housing, Diaz said.
"She doesn’t want to leave Sugarland," she said. "Her children grew up here. They are entrenched in our community. She doesn’t want to disrupt her kids lives."
The Reaves family lived in the Sugarland Run home for four-and-a-half years.
"It means a whole lot to be part of the Sugarland community," Reaves said. "They don’t know me from a can of paint and for them to come together to help us means a lot. I’ve made new friends."
Reaves and her two children, Beandre and Nishan, will call the Suburban Extended Stay Hotel in Sterling their home until they finds affordable housing.
"The thing I miss the most is being able to eat a normal dinner," Reaves said.
Reaves now cooks for her two children on a two-burner stove.
"There are only so many things you can cook in the microwave and going out to eat gets so expensive," she said.
Besides her kitchen, Reaves said she misses the sentimental things, too.
"I miss the pictures and the trophies, those little things, but I’m grateful we didn’t get hurt," she said.
Reaves was able to recover six trophies, "black and melted from the fire."
Reaves continues to run her household without a place to call her own.
"I’ve got to keep our routine going. These kids have gone through enough," she said. "Nishan still looks forward to gymnastics on Tuesdays."