Margaret Randall, a 10-year resident of Cedar Cove Cluster, woke up early Sunday morning, around 5 a.m. The wind, she thought, had shook her from her sleep.
“I opened my eyes and it was all bright pink,” Randall said. Then, she opened her bedroom curtains and saw her neighbor’s deck burning brightly.
A few minutes later she was outside with the rest of her neighbors, watching firefighters go to work, yet helpless to stop her home from being badly damaged by the spreading blaze.
The fire, started by a discarded cigarette in the townhouse just next door to Randall’s, destroyed four townhouses, displaced 13 people and caused $2 million in damages.
FIRE INVESTIGATORS called the fire accidental, said Raul Castillo, a spokesperson for Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. “Improperly discarded smoking materials at the rear of the townhouse caused the fire,” Castillo said.
When firefighters arrived on the scene, they reported “heavy fire” from the second floor of the row of townhouses.
No one was hurt in the fire, Castillo said. But an elderly woman was taken to the hospital for non-life threatening injuries.
According to neighbors, three young renters lived in the home where the fire started at 2238 Cedar Cove Court. The fire spread to Randall’s home, 2236 Cedar Cove Court, and to 2240 and 2242 Cedar Cove Court.
The Fairfax County firefighters reached the 2200 block of Cedar Cove Court just after 5 a.m.
It took them about an hour to get the three-alarm fire under control, said Castillo. But neighbors said firefighters spent until 6 p.m. extinguishing it completely.
A three-alarm fire, Castillo explained, means triple the number of units and resources are called to combat the blaze. “Over 90 members of emergency personnel were involved in fighting the fire,” said Castillo.
“IT SPREAD REALLY fast. It was really scary,” said Annette Bobby, whose townhouse adjoins the other side of Randall’s home. The Bobby’s home was saved thanks to the quick response by the firefighters and a strong wind that blew the fire in the opposite direction. “Our roof is a bit drenched and has some damage,” said Greg Bobby, Annette Bobby’s husband.
At first, Randall thought it was just a deck fire. “I didn’t think at the time that it would end up this way,” she said.
Several neighbors, including Randall and the Bobbys, said that the cedar shake shingles exacerbated the fire. “It was the roofs that did everybody in — those cedar shingles,” said Annette Bobby.
Two displaced families are staying with friends, said authorities. The Red Cross set up two other families in hotels, including Randall and her husband. “They arranged two nights at the Holiday Inn until our insurance company could arrange more long-term temporary housing,” said Randall. She’s heard “optimistic” reports that the homes could be rebuilt in a few months, but she thinks it will probably be much longer until she and her husband are back in their home.
“I felt very sorry for the families that lost their homes,” said Roy Nichols, who lives in the next row of townhouses. Nichols, who was also evacuated from his home Sunday, said firefighters hosed down his row of townhouses to prevent the fire from spreading.
As of Monday, Feb. 27, the fire department continued to check on the townhouses to be sure the fire was extinguished.