Had it not been for the sound of exploding tires, the Kendall family of Centreville might well have perished, early Sunday morning, in a fire at their home.
As it was, fire officials estimate the blaze did $757,000 damage to their house and $110,000 damage to the house next door. Two families have been displaced and a cat is missing. But luckily, everyone got out safely.
The incident occurred Nov. 25 at 5105 Myrtle Leaf Drive in the Fair Lakes Glen community. According to the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, the fire was accidental and began in the engine compartment of a car parked inside the garage.
Fire and smoke were coming from the garage when the first firefighters arrived. But when flames spread into the attic of the (including the finished basement), three-story, brick Colonial home, it quickly escalated to a two-alarm blaze, bringing more than 60 emergency personnel to the scene.
"I woke up at 4:15 Sunday morning to explosions or banging," said homeowner Mike Kendall. "I thought I was being robbed. I ran downstairs and said, 'Who is that?' And as I came down the steps, I went by the laundry-room door and saw yellow flames through the cat door in it. When I opened the door, smoke billowed in and set off the fire alarms."
Kendall then opened the door to his two-car garage, off the laundry room, and saw his 1999 Dodge Grand Caravan minivan was on fire. "The flames had already gone through the window and were alerting the next-door neighbor, who called 911," he said. "We called 911, too."
But first, Kendall made sure his family — wife Susan, son Robby, 6, and daughter Sarah, almost 9 — got out safely. "The kids were good not to look or ask questions," said their mom. "They just listened and followed directions."
Mark Jungling and girlfriend Debbie have lived next door for eight months and were also home when the fire started. "We looked out our master-bedroom window and saw flames coming across," he said. Racing downstairs to see if the Kendalls had gotten out of their home, he found them standing outside in their pajamas.
Mike Kendall briefly ran back inside to find their cat, but couldn't. "A fireman said she jumped out of a second-story window," he said. "But we haven't seen her since." Amber is a brown, tortoise-shell cat, 9 years old. If seen, call Kendall at 703-447-5436.
Jungling, Debbie and their dogs remained outside, since the fire spread to their home. It consumed the master bedroom, plus part of the roof and the side of the house on the top floor. And water and smoke damaged the rest of their house.
"When we left, we really didn't think it would get to our house," said Jungling. "I thought they'd put it out and we'd go back to bed. But it took five minutes for the fire department to get here and then unroll their hoses, and a slight breeze was blowing toward our house — and the fire went so fast."
Now, they expect to be displaced for four to six months while their home is repaired. But they're moving into an apartment in Fairfax Corner on Thursday and, said Jungling, "My insurance company, Ameriprise, has been great. It's through Costco, where I work as a pharmacy manager."
"Thank God, we're OK and everybody's OK," he continued. "But it's still depressing. We'd just put up a Christmas tree on Saturday and were going to decorate it Sunday."
The Kendalls are currently staying in a hotel suite in Fairfax; the Red Cross gave them subsistence for three nights, plus some money for groceries and clothing. And their children are in school, as usual, at Colin Powell Elementary.
Tuesday afternoon, while waiting for insurance adjusters to arrive, Mike Kendall — who's lived there 11 years — surveyed his home's damage with a restoration crew from Belfor USA in Sterling.
"Belfor was here when it was burning," he said. "They've been wonderful and very helpful." Kendall, a manager at Verizon, said he and his family won't be able to return for about nine months. "The whole roof is going to collapse," he said. "And there's nothing left upstairs."
Besides the Dodge minivan, the Kendalls lost two other cars in the blaze — a 1994 Ford Escort and a Mazda 929 sedan. "There was a recall on that van for potential, fire-related ignition issues," said Kendall. "But I took it in for the recall about 2003 and had it fixed."
"We're just grateful and thankful we got out without a scratch," he said. "We were alerted by the exploding tires — that's what woke us," added his wife.
"Otherwise, we'd be dead," said Kendall. "And the children's rooms were above the garage. Within a minute or two, the house was full of smoke." And seconds afterward, said Susan Kendall, "[The fire] was roaring."